Every year thousands of tons of garbage, sewage and industrial waste are dumped in Indonesia's 6,500 rivers, an environmental problem which affects millions of people across the archipelago.
In 2000, the Indonesian River Restoration Movement (IRRM) decided to change this, starting with a clean up drive of Code River in Yogyakarta, Java. Its aim: to restore it to its original state and raise awareness among local communities about the benefits of a clean river. Today, Dr. Adhy Kurniawan helps lead IRRM's on-going campaign which has thousands of volunteers nationwide.
In 2013, WhatsApp emerged as an "instrumental" tool to mobilize and synchronize teams across the country. Dr. Kurniawan says movement leaders now broadcast videos, photographs and clean up activity information to 62 WhatsApp groups organized by location; from big cities to more remote provinces like Papua.
"Communication via email and mailing lists was difficult because not all communities have email," explains Dr. Kurniawan. He adds that it takes time to check photographs and videos shared that way. "WhatsApp is more widely used."
IRRM's vast WhatsApp network also serves as an early warning system during flooding, a common problem in Indonesia. Through localized chat groups, volunteers can inform fellow activists downstream about impending dangers and increase community preparedness.
Harris Syarif Usman, an IRRM volunteer from Code River says, "The rivers are much cleaner now, compared to five or ten years ago. We have been educating people not to throw trash into the river for 20 years, thank God we can reap the results now."
Local officials and government leaders have also joined IRRM's WhatsApp groups, turning river clean ups into a collaborative, community-driven process where all volunteers play an equal part.
Polluted rivers are a decades old problem in Indonesia but with the help of WhatsApp, IRRM can encourage more people to take responsibility for their local rivers and in doing so, experience the benefits of a healthier environment.