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How Bandung’s Waste Crisis Poses Multiple Threats for Women

Poor waste management in Bandung put women under significant threats. From unpleasant odors, fire smoke, to reproductive disease sources.

Residents of Sarimukti Village carry containers of clean water along a road shrouded in haze from the fire at Sarimukti Landfill, Thursday (8/24/2023). (Photo: Prima Mulia/BandungBergerak.id)

Penulis Emi La Palau15 September 2023

BandungBergerak.id - In front of Hani Suprihatini's (23 years old) house, an unpleasant odor permeates the air. The source is a pile of rotting garbage. Meanwhile, Hani's two daughters play nearby, seemingly oblivious to the pungent smell.

Despite being eight months pregnant, Hani remains busy helping her husband sort through and bag the trash. She handles it with her bare hands and without a mask. Their rented house is located within the Tempat Penampungan Sementara (TPS) or Temporary Waste Disposal area in Gedebage, Bandung. Hani claims to have become accustomed to the stench of garbage, and she isn't concerned about her health or her pregnancy.

"No worries, I'm used to it," she told Bandungbergerak.id’s reporter on Monday, August 21, 2023.

Hani had her last pregnancy checkup two months ago. She chose to visit a midwife in Arcamanik, which is approximately five kilometers from their rented house, rather than the nearest clinic. She felt more comfortable with this midwife since her first child had been checked by the midwife.

With decreasing income from selling garbage, Hani worries about the upcoming childbirth expenses, which are less than two months away. Together with her husband, they continue to save money from selling garbage, which they also use to cover their daily expenses.

"Selling garbage is tough, and the prices are low and keep going down," she said. "Now we're just saving."

Hani grew up in a large family in Temporary Waste Disposal Gedebage. She is the third of five siblings and lives with her parents and all her siblings in the same rented house. Their life depends on the income they generate from selling garbage.

Hani got married at the age of 18. Her first child is now five years old, and her second child is three years old.

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Disrupting the Menstrual Cycle

At a food stall in front of the Antapani Temporary Waste Disposal in Indramayu Street, Antapani District, Bandung City, Ipah (65 years old) is busy frying bala-bala (a specialty food made from flour and mixed vegetables). The stall’s kitchen is separated from the dining area only by plywood panels, so the pungent smell of garbage infiltrates the space.

Ipah's food stall measures just one meter in length and half a meter in width. There, she sells fried snacks, various snacks, and cigarettes. Ipah and her husband also live in that food stall. Their main customers are Temporary Waste Disposal workers and neighbors.

In 1985, shortly after getting married, Ipah left Majalengka to settle in Bandung with her husband. They sold goods in various locations, including Lembang, before finally finding their current location with the permission of the Perusahaan Daerah Kebersihan or Regional Cleaning Company as the landowner. Ipah pays 25,000 rupiahs per month for cleanliness fees and 2,000 rupiahs per day for ticket fees.

After decades of living alongside garbage, Ipah, despite being accustomed to the smell, admits to experiencing irregular menstruation. She also had to wait a long time to have her first child, with a nine-year gap between her two children.

"Before I had children, my periods were irregular, few and far between. I didn't menstruate for three months," she said. "My periods became irregular after I got married and started working here."

Ipah starts her daily routine at 1 a.m. She goes to Cicadas Market to buy various ingredients for her food stall. Then at 3 a.m., Ipah will return to her house and open the stall for customers.

Residents of the City Garden Residence complex in Bandung rejected the plan for the construction of the Tempat Pembuangan Sampah Terpadu (TPST) or Integrated Waste Disposal Site Cicabe on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. (Photo: Residents Documentation)
Residents of the City Garden Residence complex in Bandung rejected the plan for the construction of the Tempat Pembuangan Sampah Terpadu (TPST) or Integrated Waste Disposal Site Cicabe on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. (Photo: Residents Documentation)

From 24-Hour Unpleasant Odor to Microplastic Threat

In densely populated areas in the northern part of Bandung, Silvi (32 years old), not her real name, has been joining dozens of mothers from the City Garden Residence in Jatihandap Village to protest the Bandung City Government's plan to turn the former landfill into an Integrated Waste Disposal Site since Tuesday, August 22, 2023.

Silvi and other women are deeply concerned about the harmful effects of waste on their lives. The Integrated Waste Disposal Site Cicabe is only 120 meters from their residential area. Moreover, their housing complex is in a low-lying area, while the Integrated Waste Disposal Site is located on a hill.

Silvi vividly remembers what happened in May 2023 when the former Cicabe Landfill was turned into an emergency waste dumping site for two weeks. The Bandung City Government made this decision after the Sarimukti Landfill in West Bandung Regency stopped operating, causing garbage to pile up on the streets of Bandung for several days.

As a housewife, Silvi couldn't manage her household duties comfortably. The pungent smell of rotting garbage filled every room. The mask she wore didn't offer much relief. Her household chores were disrupted. Also, her laundry, once hung out to dry, began to smell foul. The stench of garbage still lingers.

Garbage trucks clogged the narrow streets of Jatihandap. The leakage of wastewater not only emitted an unpleasant odor but also attracted swarms of green flies, transforming the neighborhood into a dirty and unsightly environment.

"Because I'm (always) at home, the smell never goes away 24/7," she said, as she was interviewed on Wednesday, August 23, 2023.

There are also concerns that waste might penetrate the soil and contaminate the water used by residents for their daily activities. Many families in the vicinity of Integrated Waste Disposal Site Cicabe use groundwater because they lack access to clean water provided by the Perusahaan Daerah Air Minum (PDAM) or Regional Water Supply Company.

Additionally, there is a fear of microplastic pollution that could contaminate the water supply. Since water is consumed daily, it poses a potential threat to women's reproductive health.

"If that happens, it means there could be an impact on pregnancies," Silvi said.

According to local residents, the plan to operate the Integrated Waste Disposal Site Cicabe has been proposed without proper consultation or approval from the community. However, they believe they have the right to reject the development for the sake of a healthy environment, especially for women and children.

Urging the Government, Educating the Citizens

Waste remains one of the most complained issues in Bandung. According to data from the Dinas Lingkungan Hidup (DLH) of Bandung, the city generates 1,500-1,600 tons of waste per day, with more than 50 percent of it being household waste. From this waste, around 1,200-1,300 tons are disposed of in the Sarimukti Landfill, while approximately 200 tons are claimed to be recycled by the community through the Kawasan Bebas Sampah (KBS) or Waste-Free Zone program, waste banks, and scavengers.

The waste crisis in Bandung continues to repeat itself. Most recently, a waste emergency was declared after the Sarimukti Landfill caught fire on Saturday, August 19, 2023. The fire raged for several days, resulting in air pollution that affected the health of the surrounding residents. As of Thursday, August 31, 2023, several fires were still burning.

As a result, waste transportation at the Sarimukti Landfill, which covers an area of 43.6 hectares, was halted. Residents were prohibited from dumping trash in the Temporary Waste Disposal Site. Piles of garbage were found on some streets and sidewalks.

Meiki W. Paendong, Executive Director of the Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Walhi) in West Java, believes that the majority of waste is organic. The government should prioritize environmentally friendly waste management through sorting at the source. The key lies in educating the public and enforcing regulations.

"Organic waste can be turned into compost or can be processed in cooperation with maggot farmers. Organic waste can be managed, while non-organic waste can still be sorted and recycled. The remaining residue can be solved with other solutions," she said.

Dwi Retnastuti, Chairperson of the Salam Institute Foundation, expressed her concern about the recurring waste crisis in Bandung. She believes it has escalated into a disaster. According to her, one of the root problems is the poor management of landfill operations, and in such circumstances, women are the most affected.

Dwi Retnastuti, more commonly known as Rena, explained that women continue to play a primary role in domestic waste management. The ongoing crisis makes them the most vulnerable group, bearing an increasing burden. They worry not only about their own safety but also the well-being of their children. "The burden multiplies," she said.

Rena hopes that waste sorting programs can reach all neighborhoods in Bandung. The Salam Institute Foundation, which she founded four years ago, focused on waste management education, including community support. They work with various groups, including women's savings groups, religious study groups, and waste collectors.

According to Rena, this community support program also discusses the impact of waste problems on women's reproductive health. The focus is on women working in waste processing facilities and those managing waste banks. Those working in Temporary Waste Disposal Sites have a higher risk of reproductive health issues.

"We educate them on how to sit properly when sorting waste to minimize the impact on their reproductive health," she explained.

The impact of the Sarimukti Landfill fire led to the closure of the Temporary Waste Disposal Site in the Merdeka Subdistrict of Bandung on Wednesday, August 27, 2023. (Photo: Prima Mulia/BandungBergerak.id)
The impact of the Sarimukti Landfill fire led to the closure of the Temporary Waste Disposal Site in the Merdeka Subdistrict of Bandung on Wednesday, August 27, 2023. (Photo: Prima Mulia/BandungBergerak.id)

The Reproductive Health of Women is Under Threat

Yudi Hidayat, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Universitas Padjajaran (Unpad), revealed that there hasn't been much research in Indonesia specifically examining the dangers of waste on women's reproductive health. However, this doesn't mean that the threat can be underestimated by society and policymakers.

Yudi explained that air pollution caused by waste makes women living around landfills vulnerable to various diseases. Contaminated water sources also have adverse effects on lower female reproductive tract infections. The blockages caused by infections can lead to infertility.

"If a mother's immune system is weak, mild infections can become severe," said Yudi, who also serves as the Head of the Perkumpulan Ahli Kandungan Indonesia.

Waste could also cause cancer in the female reproductive tract. In extreme cases, burned waste can release chemicals that trigger carcinogens as a cause of cancer. Many cases of cervical cancer, according to Yudi, are found in women who live or work in areas with low cleanliness standards. Additionally, waste is known to potentially be a source of infections leading to blockages in the reproductive tract.

Yudi explained the vulnerability of a pregnant woman who must live and continue her daily activities in an environment surrounded by waste piles. The air that is breathed in will enter the baby. What the mother eats, including unhygienic and contaminated food, will also enter. The baby's growth will be stunted.

"Be careful! Many carcinogenic substances, if inhaled by a pregnant mother, can affect the baby later, right?" he warned.

Women living in waste-affected environments are prone to feel discomfort, fear, and anxiety. This fear can affect the ovaries' production of estrogen and progesterone, disrupting their menstrual cycles.

Unfortunately, various threats from waste-related hazards are not well-known to women who have to live near waste piles or even landfills. This includes pregnant women. Due to their lack of knowledge, they believe they are fine.

"They feel comfortable in the sense that due to ignorance," he said.

Yudi admitted that the adverse effects of waste on women's reproductive health have not been a specific focus, either by the government or academics. Communication among stakeholders also remains ineffective. Consequently, the public does not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of the negative effects of waste.

"Now the question is whether regional governments, including the Bandung City in the context of waste management, have considered its adverse effects on reproductive health?" Yudi asked. "I believe they are not aware of that problem yet.”

Insufficient Protection for Vulnerable Groups

Dudy Prayudi, Head of the Dinas Lingkungan Hidup of Bandung City, stated that they are not only considering the impact of waste issues on women. There is no special treatment. He claims that all groups of society are considered.

"If you're asking specifically about the impact of waste on women, well, not really. Waste can become a problem for all people if it's not managed properly. This doesn't only affect women but also men, children, elders, and all of the society, in my opinion," he said.

Dudy acknowledged that the government had not yet conducted education efforts specifically for women in waste management to protect them from adverse effects. He believes that if waste can be resolved as soon as possible, the negative consequences can be avoided. Through sorting, organic waste can be turned into compost, while inorganic waste can be deposited in waste banks. The remaining residue can be sent to the landfill.

Unfortunately, the facts show that the government's waste management efforts are far from optimal. The waste crisis continues to repeat. The threats to women's reproductive health, especially those living and working near waste processing facilities, become increasingly apparent. As well as this happened without any specific policies from the government for vulnerable groups.

"Again, if waste is sorted at the source, it could actually save everything," he concluded.

Dwi Retnastuti, Chairperson of the Salam Institute Foundation, mentioned that local regulations on waste management are still very general. As a result, the needs of women and their protection as a vulnerable group have not been accommodated.

"If necessary, there should be specific regulations on waste management and its impact on women, as this is essential," she said.

*This report is part of a fellowship program with Konde.co supported by the Earth Journalism Network (EJN). Translated by Zelika Salsabila Insyra.

Editor: Ahmad Fikri