Banjarmasin City’s “Maharagu Sungai” Competition: A Community-centred Initiative Contributing to Climate Mitigation

BANJARMASIN, known as the “City of a Thousand Rivers,” is the UCLG ASPAC CRIC Project’s pilot city that is currently developing the Climate Action Plan (CAP) as part of the CRIC’s deliverability. The City Government of Banjarmasin has realised that the river is the city’s asset but at the same time, it brings challenges if it is not managed well. Buildup waste, water quality, and environmental health are only some of the challenges that block the potential. With climate adaptation and mitigation in mind, Banjarmasin City Government has developed a creative and participatory initiative called Maharagu Sungai competition.

Maharagu‘ Sungai translates as ‘nurturing’ or ‘guarding’ the river. The Banjarmasin City Environmental Agency initiated the “Maharagu Sungai” environmental participatory campaign to restore the function of rivers in the city, such as for investment, tourist destinations, and environmental health. It will also support the realisation of the vision and mission of Banjarmasin BAIMAN, “barasih wan nyaman” (clean and comfortable), without the contribution of the community, especially those living along the river.  This programme is created as cutting-edge environmental communication activities that are carried out by the Banjarmasin City Government to encourage community participation along the riverbanks.

This competition was held in each sub-district. It requires the community to follow three stages of action: 1) Select a river leader and form a group of people who care and share the same concern; 2) Mobilise the community to clean the river. As the work and mobilisation of stakeholders are done by local people and community organisations, a sense of urgency and solidarity is created. At this stage, the competition score will also improve with the participation of more people; 3) Creativity, as they are also encouraged to develop and implement new ideas, such as creating a tourist spot.

The Maharagu Sungai competition started in 2017. Before 2020, the City Government of Banjarmasin recorded 102 rivers in the city, but in 2020, the number increased to 290. Mr. Wahyu Hardi Cahyono, Secretary of the Environmental Agency of Banjarmasin City Government said that, “From here we hope that soon, every year there are 15 rivers maintained in this competition. … now we are also involving the private sector in maintaining this river.” He added, “We also hope in the long run people will be more aware of the importance of avoiding the discharge of liquid and solid waste into the river so that our water quality can be improved and controlled properly.” He highlighted that the city is collaborating with the village and sub-district authorities and offering incentives to attract their interest.

“Of course, this competition can be replicated or translated into climate action projects given most of the locations are in climate villages. This way, it creates a synergy between adaptation and mitigation programmes, especially for waste in the river.”, he added. Furthermore, given that Banjarmasin lies downstream, one of the city’s goals is to see whether the districts and/or cities in the upstream area can replicate what Banjarmasin is doing to create a synergy for solutions to local problems.

Mrs. Dwi Naniek Muhariyani, the Head of the Environmental Agency stated that there are small neighbourhood groups that will actively keep surrounding neighbourhoods clean. “River stakeholders are chosen from the community, so it is very easy for them to interact and educate people. We also gather regularly to discuss what they face in the field. We also have a WhatsApp group to facilitate coordination and to respond quickly,” Mrs. Naniek said.

“If I look at them, they are from different backgrounds; poverty and education levels are also different, mostly from the lower middle class. During the activity, they were all very enthusiastic, in the early stages they were able to make banners to warn people not to throw garbage into the river. For instance, Basirih (area) receives a lot of water hyacinth waste from upstream, making it difficult for them to handle it themselves, so they need help from us,” she added.

There are currently 14 assessment criteria for competition winners, including the role of river stakeholders, the community role, planning activities carried out by stakeholders, greening the riverbank, waste management on the riverbank, residents’ commitment to care about the Maharagu Sungai, the actual river, revitalisation programmes, river functions, clean and healthy life behaviour, community institutions/river care communities in the local area, as well as innovation (active role and initiative to involve more people even beyond the administrative area).

Today, the Maharagu Sungai competition is involving those living in villages and sub-districts where the river is located. With a minimum river criterion of 15 metres, it serves as a primary factor in safeguarding the environment, involving a variety of associated organisations and stakeholders, including journalists and experts from different environmental sectors as well as the Green Community Forum/Melingai.

According to Mr. Lukiran, a senior assessor of the Maharagu Sungai competition, there is always an improvement in terms of river cleanliness, but there are separate challenges according to the condition of each river, such as housing on the riversides and making rivers as tourism object, such as in Biuku River.

To mitigate the impacts of climate change, the Maharagu Sungai competition promotes more innovative, creative, and interactive types of effective waste management planning. This is crucial as improper waste management (incineration, transportation, etc.) can lead to the release of more greenhouse gases along with the breakdown of actual garbage that can release significant amounts of CO2 and methane gas. In Maharagu Sungai competition, communities’ active engagement in reducing their waste and maintaining a clean environment is appreciated and celebrated.