Blog / 5 October 2018

ECOTON (or the rollercoaster of Surabaya)

From the first moment I arrive in Surabaya, I enter the rollercoaster called ECOTON. I'm visiting them to get to know the work of this long-time Both ENDS partner, and have only three days for this. But ECOTON does a lot, and all of it at the same time. Tirelessly, they work on the protection of the Brantas River.

That's why I suddenly find myself, with a jetlag and with my suitcase still in the car, in the burning sun on a bridge next to a couple of women and men in white suits who are fishing diapers from a river. They get a lot of attention from the traffic passing by, and that is exactly what they want.

The fight against diaper dumping

ECOTON is committed to stop people from Surabaya from throwing their children's diapers into the rivers. They do so because of the superstition that their children get sick when the diapers are being burned (with the rest of the waste). ECOTON is therefore trying to create awareness about the consequences of dumping diapers in nature: research has shown that the fish of the Brantas River change sex on a large scale because of the chemicals in the water. In addition, ECOTON pleads with local authorities for special containers for the diapers.

Sometimes this succeeds, but later at a meeting in the municipality of Sidoarjo the local environmental department is not enthusiastic at all. In this city, a group of women collects recyclable waste from their neighbors and sells it to a waste processing plant. These women also want diaper containers to be placed in their city. Unfortunately their wish is not fulfilled this time, but these women and ECOTON will continue the fight.

The fight against the factory in Lakardowo

The same applies to the women in Lakardowo. This week their long-awaited lawsuit against the local government starts, which has unrightfully extended the permit of the waste processing plant Pt. PRIA. This factory causes such a serious pollution of water, soil and crops that they'd better not be used anymore. In spite of this, the mayor has extended the permit on the basis of incorrect data, incomplete consultation with the community and the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment has not yet been completed.

ECOTON has been preparing the case with this women's group for over a year. They learned about their rights, and in the meantime get more courage and self-confidence to stand up against injustice. The evening before the first session we meet them again for a final instruction and to make protest signs. The community has rented 4 buses to demonstrate with a large group in front of the courthouse the next day.

When I ask the women who will testify in court to tell their story in front of the camera, they do not hesitate and speak to me as if they were professional spokespersons. I'm confident that these women will make a strong impression in court. Let's hope that the judge withdraws the permit of the factory and recommends that the soil be cleaned up so that the women of Lakardowo can grow safe food for their families.

The fight for a clean Brantas, from spring to mouth

These are just two of ECOTON's many projects, many of which are supported by Both ENDS. They work with pupils and women in the source areas of the Brantas so that at least the origins of the river remain clean. With a simple but reliable method to measure water quality developed by ECOTON, pupils in Wonosalam draw up a report every quarter for the local government, while women from the village are committed to preserve a forest containing three springs of the river.

They measure the water quality around the drain pipes of factories that end up on the river. Because the government only measures during the day, many factories discharge their waste water in the evening. Which is why ECOTON researchers go out in the middle of the night to take water samples.

They catch fish and examine their stomach contents. They help communities to set up fish sanctuaries. They educate communities along the river on sustainable forest management. They teach at schools about the importance of clean rivers. And they do much more; I've only seen a fraction of their work in those few days.

Tireless guardians of the river

The ECOTON team is a group of tireless river defenders who, by using different tactics - education, advocacy, research, legal procedures and peaceful protest - can convince communities along the river as well as local authorities to take action.

So the least I can do as a communications officer is get on board of their rollercoaster and record their work. To inspire others to support, replicate, and applaud the work of ECOTON - and many other Both ENDS partners around the world. Because these people are heroes who deserve an applause!



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