Indonesia: Clean rivers needed to promote water and food security

March 22, 2012

  • All seven of the main rivers in West Java are now categorized as heavily polluted, with domestic waste as the main organic pollutant.
  • Every year Indonesia loses $6.3 billion due to poor sanitation heavily linked to poor water quality, says World Bank study.
  • Enforcement of regulations needed to improve water quality for food security under growing population pressures

Bandung, March 22, 2012 - Two years ago, Wiwin and a number of women in her neighborhood in Bandung, West Java, formed a group to help clean the Cikapundung River which runs by their homes. The group, named ‘Bugasil’ after the alley where they live, collects garbage around their neighborhood every Saturday. About 84 houses pay Rp 5,000 ($0.5) per month for their services. All the garbage they collect are brought to a proper waste disposal facility located nearby. “We took this initiative because people used to just throw their garbage straight in to the river,” Wiwin explained. “We should try to keep our rivers clean. We still use wells for fresh water, and pollution from the river can seep in.”

Fresh water quality in West Java a growing problem
Wiwin’s neighborhood is not the only one that has taken action to help clean rivers. In Bandung, the capital of West Java, there are now about 42 different community groups with a similar mission. These groups emerged out of the need of communities themselves as rivers in West Java became increasingly polluted.

According to the Head of the West Java Environmental Management Agency Setiawan Wangsaatmaja, all seven main rivers in the province are now categorized as heavily polluted. The main source of pollution is domestic waste, comprised of human waste and detergents. “More and more people are living along the river banks, resulting in more waste and pollution,” said Setiawan. Other sources of pollutants are industry agriculture and farming.

Regulations to protect rivers have been established at various government levels, but pollution continues to increase. “What we need is better implementation and enforcement,” said Setiawan. His agency is also planning a study on the effects of poor water and sanitation quality on the health of the community, to advocate for more efforts to prevent pollution.

The condition of rivers in West Java has broader implications, since they are also the source of fresh water for other regions including Jakarta, the nation’s capital located 150km away. The state-owned water utility company in Bandung now spends Rp 28 billion (USD 3,1 million) to produce drinking water from rivers such as the Cikapundung. “The amount of money we now spend is considered very large compared to other facilities where the raw water is not as polluted,” said Pian Sopian, Director of the Bandung state-owned water utility company. He added, “The cost of processing drinking water has increased by 10 percent due to heavy pollution.”

Tackling challenges from poor water and sanitation quality
With domestic waste being the top organic polluter of West Java’s main rivers, the link between improved sanitation and better water quality is clear. With better sanitation, the cost of water treatment can be reduced significantly.

To help tackle this challenge, the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program has conducted the Economics of Sanitation Initiative (ESI), demonstrating for the first time the immense economic toll of poor sanitation – up to $6.3 billion per year, equivalent to 2.3% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. The study provided decision makers with economic evidence to increase the volume and efficiency of public and private spending on sanitation.

As we commemorate World Water Day, it is worth remembering that this year’s theme – Water and Food Security – is highly relevant to Indonesia. The country’s growing population is creating greater demand for food, requiring improved water quality. Rising pressure along the banks of the Cikapundung River is just one example. “Indonesia’s population growth and very strong economic growth means competition for water resources is increasing. The demand for water is growing in cities and industries alongside agriculture,” said Almud Weitz, World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program Regional Team Leader for East Asia.