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BANDUNG – Researchers have for the first time attempted to estimate the economic cost to households of groundwater pollution caused by the textile industry. The ground-breaking work took place in Indonesia across two hamlets in the West Java province, an area which has become heavily polluted by the notorious Citarum River – often cited as the most polluted river in the world. By carrying out detailed interviews with households impacted by pollution from the river, they calculated that the total economic cost of pollution from groundwater across of 546 households is IR439,298,496 (US$32,000) per year – or 67,048 (US$4.80) per month for each household. These costs were made up of the expenditure by households on purchasing bottled water, the building of public wells and the operation of public water treatment facilities. “This is the economic cost of groundwater pollution,” say the researchers.

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Indonesia is one of the world’s leading textile producing countries, with textile exports from the country topping US$12bn. Textile exports are the country’s fourth largest export commodity. Most of the textile sector is located in West Java, particularly Bandung and its surrounding areas, and there are an estimated1,500 factories in the area.

Many of the 15 million people who live along the Citarum and rely on its water for growing food, drinking and bathing have complained about skin ailments such as irritation, itchiness, white patches and impetigo.

Research by the likes of Greenpeace has found that crop yields have reduced dramatically in the area causing huge losses for farmers, while more than 60 per cent of the fish in the Citarum have died denying the inhabitants nutrition and a source of income.

A documentary aired in 2014 on UK TV placed mercury levels in the Citarum at four times above what is recommended as safe, and the Blacksmith institute also estimates lead levels to be 1000 times more than recommended by the US EPA.

As the paper rightly points out, according to economic theory, the negative externalities of textile production – in this case rampant pollution – often make the production cost of textile factories too low, as they do not taking into account the costs of these externalities, which are ultimately borne by the local population.

In 2018, President, Joko Widodo issued regulations to make it easier to bring lawsuits against river polluting textile facilities. Since then, a number of textile production facilities in the West Java region of Indonesia have been closed down due to alleged chemical dumping in the river.

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