IN SEARCH OF SOLTIONS FOR A POLLUTED JAKARTA

With industry and population outpacing infrastructure, the Indonesian capital, like other Asian cities, is facing serious threats to supplies of clean water and air

FOR Gede, a resident of the Kapuk Mauro shantytown in north Jakarta, the stinking, foot-high water that swirls about his legs in the streets and around the few pieces of furniture in his tiny hut is a fact of life.

After one recent heavy rain, the ``black water'' rose to his waist, says Gede, a small grizzled man who works as a security guard. The waters floating with garbage and filth from uncovered sewers later receded to his knees, but he predicted their return.

``During the rainy season, the waters go back in the afternoon, and in the morning, they come again, just like people going to and coming from work,'' he said. ``There is no place to live, anywhere, to escape the water.''

The residents of this shantytown endure daily the environmental problems besetting Indonesia's capital city. Like many other urban centers in Asia, Jakarta is under the pressure of rapid economic growth, a burgeoning population, and too many cars. It also faces serious threats to air and water quality.

But prodded by Western countries and other international lenders, awareness is budding in Indonesia and Asia's other boom economies that growth and pollution do not necessarily have to go hand in hand.

``There is an imbalance in the process of developing industry faster than the infrastructure. And this imbalance is increasing in urban sectors so the problems aren't going to go away,'' says Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Indonesia's environment minister. Indonesia Seeks Remedy for Pollution

``For years, environmental concerns used to be decoupled from development. We've just started to put them together, but only in an incremental fashion,'' Mr. Sarwono continues. ``Decisive progress in the environment can only be achieved if we tie in the environment with the economy.''

In recent years, the World Bank has warned that Asia's crowded megacities are a worsening health hazard. Asia now has five of the world's seven worst cities for air pollution: Jakarta, Beijing and Shenyang in China, and New Delhi and Calcutta in India.

The costs of that environmental decline will only mount, the bank said in a 1993 report. By 2025, Asia's population will jump more than 50 percent to 4.3 billion. More than half of those people will be concentrated in 13 major urban areas.

In Jakarta, environmental problems are daunting but still solvable, international and Indonesian experts say. A sprawling metropolis of 9 million people that is growing more than 4 percent annually, the Indonesian capital is confronting contaminated water supplies, industrial pollution, and car emissions that could worsen dramatically during the next 25 years.

Failure to act would deepen the health threat and possibly stir a public backlash, the World Bank warned in a country environmental report issued last April. Indonesia's economic efficiency and ability to attract foreign investment would also suffer, affecting the country's solid growth record.

The bank estimates that air and water pollution in Jakarta costs 6,000 lives a year and $1 billion in economic losses.

Indonesian and international experts say Indonesia's late start in economic development offers an opportunity to take corrective measures. The government has set a 1995 deadline for conversion to unleaded gasoline and is trying to enforce car-emissions standards. Under a pilot program to encourage fuel conversion in public transportation, 2,000 taxis and buses in Jakarta run on compressed natural gas available at 18 stations around the Indonesian capital. Government planners hope to expand the program to 50,000 public vehicles nationally and to promote the use of mass transit.

A national campaign involving the government, voluntary organizations, and industry is under way to rein in industrial pollution, targeting 11 industrial areas which channel waste into 24 rivers.

Eight years ago, all factories were ordered to install water-treatment facilities, and the government regularly publishes compliance ratings for factories. A state company has been established to manage water resources in polluted East Java by selling water to users and directing revenues to improve the quality of catchment areas.

Jakarta is also trying to crack down on the granting of local government concessions to cut forests and has launched an effort to reclaim deforested areas.

``I think the message is seeping through to industries that because we're new at this game, we can learn lessons from the past and from other countries,'' says Sarwono, the environment minister. ``It's easier to convince us of the necessity because of our cultural heritage, and we're not that far gone. We remember our `green' past.''

``Five years ago, businessmen didn't even think about the environment and waste management and water treatment,'' observes Salam Husein Syapri, an activist with the nongovernmental Indonesian Environmental Forum which has sued companies to stop water pollution.

The heaviest burden of pollution, particularly of water resources, falls on the poor, who account for 60 percent of Jakarta's population. Water poisoning by industrial and domestic wastes are contaminating already-depleted ground-water supplies and are forcing the government to build costly infrastructure to bring supplies in from distant watersheds, Indonesian analysts say.

``By the year 2000, there won't be any drinking water left because the water from the river and the ground water will be polluted,'' predicts Mr. Salam, pointing out that a liter bottle of mineral water costs almost double the price of a liter of gasoline.

But if the poor are the victims, they are also a large part of the problem, experts say. Although industrial wastes contribute, by far the major cause of water pollution is domestic sewage.

In Kapuk Mauro, the nearby Jisadane River is the toilet for many residents who say they can't afford the 50-cent daily charge per family to use the neighborhood public toilet, which is often broken. Monique Sumanpouw, a Jakarta university student and environmental activist, is trying to counsel local residents who don't see the connection between the poor sanitation and filth and widespread sickness, skin diseases, and stench.

Ms. Sumanpouw says that change is slow but sees some occasional progress. ``They have been living like this for so long, they just accept it,'' she says. ``They just stay and wait for the government and ask who can help. But this is not a priority for the government. This is the worst area in Jakarta.

``But I think some people are starting to think about it,'' she notes. ``They are seeing that in the end, people have to help themselves.''

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