Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Clean Water Is a Human Right, but It also Makes Sound Economic Sense

                         Universal Declaration of Human Rights

With so much rain recently, the idea that there is not enough water in Indonesia seems counterintuitive.

But there is water and there is clean water. It has been eight years since Indonesia announced its latest version of the water law, which reaffirmed individual access and availability of clean water and related sanitation facilities as a priority. Yet more than 126 million people are still without this basic human need.

Data from the National Socioeconomic Survey shows just 53 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water and even fewer people have access to basic sanitation. In Jakarta, with its large unofficial housing areas, the figures are even more alarming with only 40 percent of the population having access to piped water and just 20 percent having access to a private toilet. To make matters worse, much of the water that is supplied is of poor quality, often heavily contaminated with other sources of waste, so users risk dangerous levels of E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria.

The government has committed to halve the number of people who lack access to clean water and sanitation by 2015. It is also one of the Millennium Development Goals.

In other MDGs, such as enrollment in primary education and child mortality, there have been notable successes. However, according to the latest figures by the World Health Organization and Unicef, the Indonesian government is not on track to meet its targets. And with approximately 120 million cases of illness caused by this lack of access, resulting in around 50,000 deaths a year, finding a solution is becoming increasingly critical.

But there are other compelling factors than those related directly to health. A World Bank study has shown that poor sanitation and hygiene costs the Indonesian economy Rp 56 trillion ($6.1 billion) annually, which is equal to 2.3 percent of GDP. Investing in water and sanitation, therefore, makes sound economic sense.

Investment does not come cheap. Governments will have to draw on other sources in the private sector and develop public-private partnerships to find the investment crucial for further improving access to water and sanitation.

But spending alone is not the answer to the problem. Laws relating to land acquisition need to be enforced if needed infrastructure is to be built. Industrial waste water laws also need to be enforced. Every day massive amounts of industrial, farming and household waste are not disposed of in a responsible and proper manner. Much of this waste, containing heavy metals, bacteria, pesticides and other chemicals, is allowed to flow into rivers or seep into groundwater, which is the major source of water for many households.

Unfortunately, without a coordinated approach to water use and water waste, rapid urbanization is likely to make the problem worse. It is estimated that 35 million people will be living in Greater Jakarta by 2020. The national government has taken action on addressing one type of water-related issue, the capital’s flooding problems, though much work remains there, too, but providing household access to water seems to have slipped down the list of government priorities.

Jakartans argue that water prices are high (with 50 percent wastage, is this a surprise?). One of the two water companies providing water in Jakarta, Palyja, has argued that it needs to increase prices in order to improve the quality of water and increase access to more people. Surely, water and sanitation services must be affordable to the user and the pricing structure must not prevent their access.

Addressing the issues of providing clean water and sanitation is no easy feat, but it is essential that greater leadership be provided. Affordable access to clean water is a right. But individuals must also play their part and act responsibly.

By Maxine Carr@The Jakarta Globe

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