Indonesia, no extreme climates, and a megadiversity country, have a biggest problem as a water pollution.

Indonesia is known for its perfect beauty, but it is also known for the most polluted river in the world – Citarum.

A National Geographic report showed that the Citarum River, which flows through Java, has such a high amount of garbage that it is impossible to see the water. 

Marine animals are the biggest victims of pollution, as they end up mistaking plastic for food. Humans are also harmed because the fish they eat often contain high levels of toxins.

In addition to the domestic waste, heavy water pollution from textile industry waste also threatens people’s health near the river basin. Of the 550 rivers in Indonesia, 52 are heavily polluted. 

The rivers in Indonesia essential for social, agricultural, and industrial activities are mainly dire due to household and industrial waste pollution.

Table of Contents


Various factors cause polluted water. Factors that cause water pollution can come from humans or from nature itself. The major causes of water pollution in Indonesia are as follows:

1. Household Waste

Image of Household waste in Indonesian River
Image of Household waste in Indonesian River | Image Credit – Dreamstime

Household waste may seem trivial. However, this waste can cause significant water pollution.

The Indonesian Environmental Statistics Report 2020 showed that more than half of households, or 57.42% in Indonesia, dispose of bathing, washing, and kitchen wastewater into rivers. 

In addition, as much as 18.71% dispose of household waste into the ground pit. There are also 10.26% of Indonesians who dispose of trash into septic tanks. Next, 1.67% of Indonesians dispose of household waste into infiltration wells.

The report stated DKI Jakarta is the province that has the highest percentage of household waste disposal into rivers. The rate reached 79.72%.

2. Industrial Waste

Image of Industrial wastewater pollution in Indonesia
Image of Industrial wastewater pollution in Indonesia | Image Credit – The Diplomat

Industry produces a vast (over 90%) amount of waste. Most of these wastes contain toxic chemicals and pollutants. 

The condition in Indonesia worsens, and the Indonesian villages suffer more as the polluted rivers pass through these villages. 

Of the 64 thousand villages the river passes through, a quarter (25.1 percent) have poor water quality. The highest level of pollution is on the island of Java. 

In West Java, 980 villages, or 13.3 percent of the total 7,367 villages in Indonesia, that rivers pass through have water quality that is heavily polluted due to industrial activities.

In Central Java, factory waste dominates, especially in leather and textile processing factories.

Research conducted by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment has found that heavy metals from factory waste have become the primary contaminants of the Citarum River- the dirtiest river in the world.

3. Sewage and Wastewater

Image of water pollution in Indonesia due to sewage | Image Credit – Eco Textile News

The lack of proper sewage and wastewater treatment is causing river and water pollution in Indonesia.

In 2018, the DKI Jakarta government announced that more than 90% of domestic wastewater is disposed of into seas, rivers, and underground through septic tanks without being treated.

According to Firman Lubis, Professor of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Indonesia, the lack of a proper sewage system in Indonesia is higher in villages compared to urban areas.

In villages, people defecate carelessly, for example, in rivers, ditches, or fish ponds. This situation makes environmental sanitation worse.

In 2013, the Tanah Tinggi-Kramat railway area, with an estimated population of 1,000 people, only had nine public toilets. Some toilets didn’t even have a septic tank, and the sewage flowed directly into the rivers.

4. Oil Pollution

Image of Oil Spill in Indonesia causing severe water pollution | Image Credit – Conserve Energy Future

Indonesia is one of the nations that can produce oil and gas with a large capacity. Several water and ports are used as loading and unloading terminals to support oil and gas traffic and transportation.

Therefore, the government categorizes several areas with oil loading and unloading terminals as areas with high pollution levels, such as DKI Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java, North Sumatra, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, Lampung, and South Sulawesi.

Several oil spill events in both water and land occurred in Indonesia. In 2021, gas bubbles were coming from the H-4 Langsa Offshore well, located about 30 nautical miles from the coast of Kuala Idi District.

In the same year, the north Waters of Karawang, West Java, were highly polluted due to oil pipe leakage. 

5. Thermal Pollution

Thermal pollution is one vital type of water pollution less known since it is not readily observable – it is not visible or audible, but its impact is considerable. 

The major source of thermal water pollution is the hot water disposal from industries and power plants. 

In Indonesia, thermal pollution has been the primary cause of water pollution. Due to high electricity demand, the government of the Republic of Indonesia built several Steam Power Plants, one of which is Tambak Lorok Semarang.

The University of Indonesia conducted a study on this power plant to identify the impact of the hot water disposal from the plant into the sea.

The study concluded that hot water disposal from the plant had changed the marine ecosystem, and water quality is harmful to the aquatic environment. 

6. Fishing Explosives

Using fishing explosives and poison is banned and legally punished in Indonesia. But the practice is still common for Indonesian fishers.

In October 2021, the Directorate of Water and Air Police of the Southeast Sulawesi Regional Police arrested a fisherman from Saponda Darat Village, Konawe Regency, for allegedly using explosives while catching fish.

Further investigation revealed not only one or two, but most villagers regularly used explosives to catch a massive amount of fish. 

Other Indonesian villages are not far behind; the police arrested 11 crew members from Bajo Pulo Village, Sape District, Bima Regency, for illegally catching fish with explosives. 

People are not aware that the use of explosives can create water pollution. Worse, the water could be one of the springs that people will consume later.

7. Mining

Mines Polluting Indonesia’s Water | Image Credit – Benar News

Indonesia has abundant natural resources. Based on JATAM data, around 44% of Indonesia’s land area has been granted about 8,588 mining business permits. 

The amount is 93.36 million hectares, about four times East Kalimantan and North Kalimantan. These permits have had a significant impact on human rights and the environment. 

At the end of 2020, JATAM reported 45 mining conflicts and 22 water pollution and destruction cases.

8. Urban and human pollution

Image of Plastic pollution in Indonesia
Image of Plastic pollution in Indonesia | Image Credit – The Asean Post

The primary urban and human pollutant agent threatening the water condition in Indonesia is microplastic.

The Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (Ecoton) study suggests that microplastics have been spread in many rivers in Indonesia.

Ecotone researcher Eka Chlara Budiarti said in early 2021, microplastic pollution had contaminated the North and East Java waters. 

Microplastics were found in as many as 57 ± 87 particles per 100 liters in water. Meanwhile, as many as 99 ± 136 particles per 100 liters were found in eastern waters. 

9. Deforestation

Indonesia is regarded as one of the countries with the most deforestation rate globally. 

The high deforestation rate in Indonesia is closely related to the increasing demand for land for agricultural conversion and mining, land clearing for oil palm plantations, forest fires, and illegal logging or timber production.

In June of 2021, Coaction Indonesia and several partners researched 4,783 villages with the primary commodity of palm oil. The study found 35% experienced water, air, and soil pollution. 

Water pollution dominates, around 24% in oil palm villages. It can be seen in the six main palm oil-producing provinces in Indonesia.

These provinces include Riau, South Sumatra, North Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan. 

In West Kalimantan, 45% of the 260 oil palm villages experienced water pollution, followed by Central Kalimantan with 38% of the total 303 villages.

10. Lack of Public Awareness

One of the significant causes of river pollution in Indonesia is the lack of public awareness. 

Research carried out in the Citarium river located in West Java found the main reason for the river pollution is the uncontrolled behavior of throwing garbage into waterways.

Researchers found that people along the river have a culture of disposing of waste that is not treated first. 

The lack of understanding of the environment and the community’s apathy towards the river and garbage worsens the condition of the Citarum River.


Apart from these causes, medical waste used for Covid-19 treatments, such as masks, personal protective equipment, injections, and used swab test kits, are also causing water pollution in Indonesia, especially in the Cisadene River flow in Tangerang. 

The government is utilizing every possible effort to control the water pollution in the country. However, public action is also needed for the effort to be successful.

(Last Updated on November 1, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.