Meeting Indonesia’s Urban Sanitation Needs

March 21, 2017

  • Indonesia’s rapid urbanization brings challenges to meeting sanitation needs of the urban population.
  • Access to improved sanitation facilities, with human excreta hygienically separated from human contact, has increased but 95% of fecal sludge is not treated and contaminates the environment.
  • Indonesia is taking a new approach to meet its target of universal sanitation access by 2019.

Bandung, Indonesia, March 21, 2017 – Indonesia is currently experiencing rapid urbanization, with cities growing faster than any other Asian countries. By the year 2025 it is expected that 67.5% of the country’s population will live in cities.                                                            
Challenges come with a high rate of urbanization. One of them is meeting the needs of good management of sanitation facilities.

Yoyok Cahyono Upoyo, who lives in the town of Bekasi in West Java, is among millions of urban dwellers facing sanitation problems.

Most urban families rely on septic tanks located under or close to their houses, but many are not watertight. There is even a popular misperception in Indonesia that a good septic tank is one that leaks, as it will not need to be emptied.

“Most of my neighbors have a septic tank at home. The public well is located near some of them so I know the water is contaminated,” said Yoyok.

He is also aware of the consequences.

“Bacteria from the septic tank is a health hazard to my family, especially my children. They can get diarrhea, or not grow as well as other children their age and will be stunted,” said Yoyok.

Nine million, or 30%, of Indonesian children under the age of five are stunted, and contaminated water due to poor sanitation is an important cause.


Proper toilets widely available but problems still exist

Access to sanitation facilities in Indonesian cities has actually improved; 76% of the urban population already have proper toilets, but problems persists.

“We can’t just stop at ensuring 100% access to proper toilets. We should also keep in mind that only 5% of human waste is properly treated for safe disposal. The remainder still contaminates the environment,” said Tri Dewi Virgiyanti, Director of Housing and Settlement of the National Development Planning Agency.

When septic tanks are emptied, the fecal sludge is often moved to another location such as an open field or river banks. It is also common to see rows of houses along river banks equipped with pipes so waste water from their toilets are disposed of straight into the river.

" Bacteria from the septic tank is a health hazard to my family, especially my children. They can get diarrhea, or not grow as well as other children their age and will be stunted "

Yoyok Cahyono Upoyo

Resident of Bekasi in West Java

Wider problem of poor sanitation management

The scale of problems caused by poor sanitation is actually much wider.

“Around 68% of rivers in Indonesia are heavily polluted. Of those, 70% are polluted by domestic waste,” said Tri Dewi.

Rivers contaminated by domestic waste raise the cost of clean water since more contamination will require more processing efforts. Poor sanitation management has raised the cost of water treatment alone by up to 25%.

Due to the poor quality of sanitation, it is estimated that Indonesia experience a loss of 56 trillion Rupiah ($4.2 billion) each year.


Achieving universal access to proper sanitation facilities

Indonesia has set a target to achieve universal water and sanitation access by 2019. A number of efforts have been taken to meet this goal including better management of sanitation facilities.

More than 90% of Indonesian households still rely on onsite sanitation but since 2013, the government’s focus of fecal sludge management has shifted from constructing treatment facilities to a comprehensive management that encompasses, emptying septic tanks, septage treatment, recycling treated sludge, and upgrading to onsite systems from leaking pits to standard septic tanks.

Sixteen pioneering districts have started to improve processing of fecal sludge, with support from the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in collaboration with a number of donors including the World Bank. Health indicators have improved in these districts, and 40 more will soon follow.

New technology has been applied such as an app to help services to empty septic tanks in the city of Bekasi.

More modern treatment plants have also started operations.

“Before, we would transport the sludge from one place to another. Basically just moving the problem to a new location,” said Andrea Sucipto, head of Bekasi Domestic Waste Water Processing. “With the new treatment plants, it is easily solved.”

The new processing installation in Bekasi, which started operations in early 2017, works 24 hours a day, with a capacity of 100m3/day and serves 2.000 houses.

“In the future, we hope to get cleaner water from the results which can be processed for piped water in the city, and the sludge can be used for fertilizer,” Sucipto added.

Treatment plants with a more compact design are helping cities with limited land.

“The central government wants to invest in developing fecal sludge processing installations, but empty land is hard to find in cities,” said Winarko Hadi, a fecal sludge installation designer from Compact Design Bandung. “With a proper design, we will only need 100m2 for a processing capacity of 20m3/day, compared to a conventional one of 2.000m2.”

These efforts are all part of Indonesia’s medium-term development plan that it aims to meet by 2019.