It is not easy to convince people that it is safe and desirable to eat food cooked using human waste as fuel, but Irwansyah Andi Idrus has somehow managed it. Irwansyah, a resident of Petojo Binatu, Central Jakarta, who chairs community unit (RW) 8 in North Petojo subdistrict, said most residents initially believed the use of biogas – produced from human waste collected from a communal toilet in the area – would affect the taste of the food.
“I arranged several cooking demonstrations with the biogas to show them that various types of food, like rice or fried bananas, would taste like they are supposed to,” the 43-year-old told The Jakarta Post. “I always ate the food first and let them try it. Now, people no longer care about where the gas comes,” he said, laughing.
Having held onto his position as community head since 1997, Irwansyah, who holds a degree in computer science, has put a lot of effort into promoting a clean and hygienic lifestyle in the densely populated Petojo area. He used to run a business supplying electronic products, but after it fell over during the 1998 Asian financial crisis, he and his wife, Hera, decided to dedicate most of their time to developing their community.
“I realized that if I want to change people’s lifestyle, I have to start the change with myself. If we can show others the positive impact, it will be easier to influence them,” said Irwansyah, who has spent his entire life in the Petojo area. “So you can say that I am currently a part-time businessman and full-time RW head,” he added, smiling.
In his early days as community head, he used his own money to buy and plant dozens of trees in the alleys in the area, which is surrounded by several major roads and buildings, as a way to tackle air pollution. He later established a composting program and supported local women in producing handicrafts made from organic and plastic waste. Now, community earns about Rp 3 million (US$300) a month from handicrafts sales. It also produces about 100 kilograms of compost, sold for Rp 2,500 per kilogram, every three weeks.
But, despite his success with his replanting and garbage recycling programs, by 2006, Irwansyah had not managed to solve the sanitation problems faced by the community’s poorer residents, most of whom live near the Krukut riverbank. With 30 percent of households having no toilet or bathroom, it was common to see residents there throw their daily waste into the Krukut River, making one of the city’s main rivers severely dirty and smelly.
“Even water and human waste from a nearby MCK [communal bathing, washing and toilet facility] also ended up in the river since the facility had no proper septic tank and was poorly maintained,” said Irwansyah. Help came from USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), which recognized Irwansyah’s earlier achievements and offered to sponsor the construction of an environmentally friendly public toilet facility for his poor residents.
In September 2007, the new communal washing, bathing and toilet facility, named “MCK++”, was opened, providing 80 poor families in the area with six toilets, five bathrooms and access to clean groundwater. The 125-square-meter facility is also equipped with a waste-processing installation, using a technology called a decentralized wastewater treatment system (dewats), which ensures that the water waste from the facility does not harm the river.
Furthermore, a biodigesting installation processes human waste to produce biogas, which is channeled to a communal kitchen in front of the toilet facility. “We initially planned to pipe the gas directly into residents’ houses, but unfortunately the facility could not produce enough pressure,” Irwansyah said. But it could produce enough biogas to heat four gas stoves for four hours a day. The communal kitchen, Irwansyah said, meant nearly all the families in the area no longer needed to buy gas to cook. They only needed to pay Rp 5,000 per month to help maintain the facility.
He also has successfully revitalized a 700-meter section of Krukut River in his area by running a river clean-up program every three months. “Now people can even go fishing in the river,” he said. His achievements even drew the attention of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who toured the Petojo community during her visit to Indonesia in February.
The father of two drew more attention when he received a Kalpataru Award, the country’s most prestigious environmental award, presented by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He was the youngest of this year’s 12 Kalpataru winners, and the only winner from Java. The Kalpataru Awards, launched in 1980, are presented to those who contributed to the preservation and improvement of their environment. This year, the presentation was held to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5.
Other recipients included Timotius Hindom from West Papua for cultivating a 50-hectare agro forestry area, Djoni from West Sumatra for motivating local communities to produce organic fertilizers from goat urine and for other activities empowering local farmers, and Viktor Emanuel Raiyon from East Nusa Tenggara for growing 55 hectares of mangrove along Maumere’s northern coast following 1999 tsunami in the area.
Irwansyah said he was happy with the award and urged other communities to independently find solutions to tackle their communal problems, not relying only on government support. “According to my experience, a community-initiated program or public facility will do better because the residents will have a stronger emotional attachment to the facility and will maintain it for their own good,” he said.
His fame also drew the attention of political parties, he said, he invited him to be a legislative candidate, but he refused because he wants to continue developing his community. “I also told them that I have no money to run,” he added, laughing.
Source: The Jakarta Post – June 16, 2009
By Hasyim Widhiarto