When 80-year-old Madi has no money to buy food for him and his wife, he casts a net in the polluted waters of the East Flood Canal hoping to haul in fish.
The waters are often caked with foam from detergent used by nearby houses or even industrial waste dumped in rivers flowing into the canal, also known as the BKT.
However, this doesn’t bother Madi, a resident of Duren Sawit in East Jakarta, who will settle for a tainted catch.
“I have learned my lesson,” he said on Tuesday. “I cannot cook the fish immediately because if I do, I will get stomach aches.”
The health hazards caused by this practice have not stopped impoverished communities around the canal from fishing there.
Madi said that after he fell ill from eating fish caught from the BKT, he learned to soak the catch in a bucket for several days before cooking it.
Aos Rosyidin, 55, a resident of Malaka Sari subdistrict in Duren Sawit, has also learned how to avoid disease even if he eats fish caught from the canal.
“The problem is that [the people who get sick] do not handle the fish properly,” he said.
“The fish need to be cleaned first by putting them in a bucket with fresh water for three or four days before they are ready to be cooked.”
The 23 kilometer-long BKT, built to ease flooding in East and North Jakarta, pools water from the Ciliwung, Cililitan, Cipinang, Sunter, Buaran, Jati Kramat and Cakung rivers.
However, authorities said those rivers had become polluted by industrial and household waste, making fishing for food at the BKT dangerous.
According to October 2010 data from 45 monitoring posts of the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD), 82 percent of the capital’s rivers are “heavily polluted.” The rest were categorized as either slightly or moderately polluted.
Pitoyo Subandrio, head of the Public Works Ministry’s Ciliwung-Cisadane Agency, which oversees the flood canal, has confirmed that pollutants have tainted the BKT.
Though the government has not issued a ban on fishing at the BKT, officials said last month that they were trying to address water quality problems by threatening suspensions or water-pipe blockage to companies that continued to dump waste into rivers.
Dian Wiwekowati, head of natural resources management at the BPLHD, said all industrial or commercial activities disposing of wastewater needed a valid permit from the governor.
Peni Susa n ti, head of the BPLHD, said the permit was necessary to limit the amount of wastewater being dumped into the city’s 13 rivers.
For now, though, concerns about water-borne diseases or food poisoning fail to discourage poor residents from using the BKT, which has seen marine life grow since the long-delayed project was completed in 2009.
Ratim, a waiter from Pondok Bambu, said fellow residents went to the canal “almost daily” to bring home fish for their families. For him, however, fishing is a hobby, and he claims to have once caught four kilograms of fish at the canal.
“Before the BKT was built, I used to go fishing at the river near the [mosque] in Pondok Bambu,” he said on Tuesday.
Ratim has frequented the BKT enough to know when the fish taste good based on the canal’s water level.
“I usually don’t get many fish when the water [level is low], but the fishes usually taste better,” he said.
“I think it is because when the water is receding, the water is cleaner so the fishes do not have a weird taste, like oil.”