July 6, 2009 / 5:13 AM / 10 years ago

Activist turns Jakarta suburb into green oasis

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - In many areas of Jakarta, the air pollution is choking, what little green spaces there are wilting and garbage festers on street corners. And then there’s Banjarsari, a green oasis on the outskirts of city.

The neighborhood was once yet another dirty, polluted suburb of Indonesia’s congested capital.

But thanks to decades of work by environmental activist Harini Bambang Wahono, who promised herself to make Banjarsari clean and green when she moved there in 1983, recycling and tree-planting are now second-nature to most residents.

“What encouraged me to do this is my poor farming family background,” Wahono, who hails from Central Java, told Reuters.

“I have been taught since I was young about the environment, recycling and loving the plants by my farmer father. So when I first moved here, I started an effort to make the area green. I just wanted to have an environment as green as my hometown.”

The 3.3 sq km (1.27 sq mile) neighborhood, with more than 1,000 residents, boasts green swathes which provide shade in the summer heat.

All the households, even the smallest, have made room to grow flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, which is fertilized using organic waste from the kitchen.

Other, non-organic garbage is recycled with paper turned back into paper while plastic is used to weave mats and bags.

Wahono’s efforts made the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) select Banjarsari as a pilot project for community waste management in 1996.

And years later, Banjarsari remains committed to the environment, holding regular training classes for the community on recycling and reusing organic waste.

“I think this training is useful, now I know that separating plastic from organic garbage is a must, because plastic does not decompose,” said Audia, a student who took part a recent one-day course, which is free of charge.

“Greening the area does not necessarily require expensive plants or trees,” added homemaker Ella.

Wahono, 78, recalls how many families in the middle-income neighbourhood rebuffed her efforts in the beginning.

Now, she travels throughout Indonesia and to several Asian countries to conduct waste management training courses based on her experiences in Banjarsari.

Community leader Wardi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, says the neighborhood doesn’t suffer from floods like most other areas in Jakarta, where drains and rivers around are choked with garbage.

“Here we have a clean environment, litter-free,” he said.

Government statistics shows that Jakarta and its neighboring towns generate more than 27,000 cubic meters (953,500 cu ft) of garbage a day, of which 17 percent is dumped into rivers.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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