Water Everywhere—But Any Drop to Drink?
Category: Column By : Scott Younger Read : 599 Date : Friday, June 02, 2017 - 16:23:43

In the mid 19th century, to combat cholera and typhoid, the citizens of Glasgow took a brave action to pipe clean water from Loch Katrine into the city, arguably a world first. To this day, this remarkable piece of engineering, opened by Queen Victoria in 1859, remains as the city’s main source of potable water—a testament to the engineering skills of the Victorian period.

Much of the world remains without access to clean water, despite the objectives of the Millenium Development Goals, and enshrined in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. While aims are laudable, implementation remains the sticking point. Finding the many billions needed for this is not the only hurdle holding back these noble goals.

For one, the distribution of fresh water worldwide is uneven. Indonesia is blessed with rainfall, but available supply doesn’t always match the requirements of local population. Legislative and bureaucratic involvement in Indonesia too often gets in the way, often falling foul of political self-interest.

The constitional court’s cancellation in 2015 of the 2004 Water Law led to considerable confusion in the sector. Quick government action to counter this  secured a temporary respite to protect the sector. Nonetheless, the upcoming new law (in draft form) still would seem to fall short of encouraging private interest, a situation found in much of the infrastructure sector, and hence the inability to achieve implementation targets. 

For the current five-year investment plan for the water and sanitation sector, set out in 2014, and under the current government, the forecast investment level needed for water and sanitation was about $65 billion, with government budget and BUMNs providing about 65% of the funding. However, the lack of progress on providing sound structures for private investment has inhibited progress.

Matters requiring attention include new dams for reservoirs to store water, for which there was some activity in 2015 but little since, and stabilizing and strengthening local government water companies. Also needed is a rationalization of ownership of water assets across the archipelago, and having thousands of small rural areas directly take care of their own water needs, especially when it makes little sense to involve a higher level of local government.

On the urban scale, apart from implementing plans to meet current unsatisfied needs for towns and cities, planning has to start for the significant urbanization expected over the next 30 years, a forecast of an additional 90 million people. While this continues to be a serious matter in the case of water supply, it is particularly acute for sanitation. In greater Jakarta alone, the effort to put in modern sanitation systems is perennially postponed. Will the incoming Jakarta adminstration continue with the effort by the current team to push central government to implement its already set out plans, starting in west Jakarta? E coli levels in the city are well above world maximum standard, given the steady daily polluting of the surface and groundwater sources. The water sector does not get the headlines of transport or electricity, but without clean water and good sanitation, the health of the country’s town and cities can quickly deteriorate and hurt economic growth. 



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