The Citarum River, which winds its way through West Java past terraced rice paddies and teeming cities, is an assault on the senses. Visitors can smell the river before they see it.
Some fishermen still make their living off the river’s fouled waters, but many are no longer casting lures. Instead, they row their boats through floating garbage, foraging for old tires and other trash they can sell.
The river, considered by many environmentalists to be among the world’s most polluted, is woven tightly into the lives of the West Javanese.
It provides 80 percent of household water for Jakarta’s 14 million people, irrigates farms that supply 5 percent of Indonesia’s rice and is a source of water for more than 2,000 factories, which are responsible for a fifth of the country’s industrial output, according to the Asian Development Bank.