Clean water crisis threatens Indonesia

Up to 70 percent of country's waterways are seriously polluted, government says
Clean water crisis threatens Indonesia

A clean water seller fills jerry cans with clean water from a piped water supply. Less than half of Jakarta’s 10-million residents have access to piped water. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

Dirty and smelly water is what Imelda Pratiwi Sianipar, a 32-year-old Jakarta housewife has to deal with almost every day.

She can only get clean water in the early hours of the morning.

"That's the time when I need to fill a water tank at my home so we can bathe and wash clothes and dishes," she told ucanews.com.

"I don't use the water to drink or cook. I'm not sure the water is clean enough. I usually buy bottled water for that purpose, even though I still have to boil the water," she said. 

She has access to a city-owned piped water supply operated by private water operators. For this, she has to pay 200,000 rupiah (about US$16) a month.

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"I'm disappointed, of course. I spend money on water, but what I get is water of low quality," she said.

Other households in the neighborhood do not have access to the piped water supply. 

"I buy clean water every day to use for bathing and washing," said Ipat, a 54-year-old food vendor who lives in a small rented house next to a dirty and polluted canal.

Just like Imelda, she also usually buys bottled drinking water for drinking and cooking.

Less than half the city's 10-million residents have access to a piped water supply, according to a BBC report.

Meanwhile, the illegal digging of wells is rife. This practice draining underground aquifers (reservoirs), depleting fresh water supplies.

The British public service broadcaster also said Jakarta was one of 11 cities around the world most likely to run out of clean water.

Like many coastal cities, Jakarta faces the threat of rising sea levels, which decreases the level of groundwater.

The World Bank estimates about 40 percent of Jakarta lies below sea level.

It is reported that Jakarta is shrinking at a rate of between 7 and 20 centimeters per year, drawing down groundwater.

Making matters worse, some rivers in the city now resemble garbage dumps.

A man tries to clean up a polluted canal in North Jakarta. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

 

Polluted rivers

One would think that clean water would not be much of a problem for Indonesia, considering it has almost 5,600 rivers. 

However, data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry shows that nearly 70 percent of them are seriously polluted.

Only three percent of the country's waterways meet clean water quality standards, the ministry says.

Probably the worst offender is the 300-kilometer-long Citarum River in West Java, which flows through Jakarta.

The river, which is the third-longest on Java, is one of the most-polluted rivers in the world, according to the World Bank.

An investigation carried out by Greenpeace just a few years ago found high levels of dangerous chemicals in canals and sewers around eight industrial zones along the river.

The environmental group concluded that most of these pollutants came from small textile industries.  

It's helped add to a growing problem for more than 260 million people as rivers are the main source of fresh water.

The clean water supply for Java is 30.6 million cubic meters per year. Yet, demand for clean water was as much as 164.7 million cubic meters in 2015, according to government figures.

"People are simply unaware of how important it is to protect water sources," said Agus Haryanto, a freshwater specialist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia.

"If we do nothing, Indonesia will likely face a clean water emergency," he warned.

According to Greenpeace campaigner, Ahmad Ashov Birry, the first step the government should take is to reveal the names of those contributing to water pollution.

"We talk about the people's right to clean water. So the law must be enforced," he said.

 

Government's efforts

The government says it is trying to address the issue starting with the protection of existing clean water.

"[We've] called for the wise use of clean water, are looking to improve waste-water management, clean polluted water through a program called eco-riparian, as well as rainwater harvesting through biopori," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told ucanews.com.

A riparian area is the interface between land and a river, while biopori is a method of replicating the mutual process of rapid infiltration of storm water from the surface to greater depths. 

However, Father Alsis Goa Wonga, director of the Franciscan Commission of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Jakarta, suggested that any effort taken to deal with the crisis should involve all social communities.

"Efforts for clean water must be immediately done through a joint movement," he said.

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