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Is affordable, clean water for all just a dream? JAKARTA - The number of Indonesian urban poor without access to running water, an estimated 50 million people, exceeds the combined populations of Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. Nearly half of all people currently living in Jakarta, the fourth most populous city in the world, lack a piped water connection; this number of unconnected is greater than the urban population of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ho Chi Minh City manages to provide 84 percent of its population with coverage. Burdened by poverty and debt, Colombo, Sri Lanka still covers 69 percent of the urban populace. Cities as close as Kuala Lumpur and as large as Seoul have managed to supply 100 percent of their residents with 24 hour access to piped water.

25 years ago, Malaysian government officials traveled to Indonesia to study how to develop a water supply network and today there is no question of their success. This then begs the question; how have so many of Indonesia's developing neighbors managed to expand and support sufficient water supply networks while little progress is made here?

Indonesia is capable, both technically and financially, of providing a running water supply to 100 percent of the population. It is essential for all parties involved, including central and municipal governments, local communities and of course, utilities, to communicate and address each others needs and limitations.

All things considered, the expense of not having access to piped water is more than physical, it is financial. When there is not the added cost of a health detriment, there is the added cost of acquiring clean water from vendors. For at least six million of those estimated 50 million unconnected to piped water, the lack of connection is not from an inability to pay, indeed these people are forced to acquire water from private vendors in jerry cans at extraordinarily high rates far in excess of water utility tariffs.

Rather, in most Indonesian cities, local water utility tariffs for the poor ("social tariffs") may be as low as Rp. 300 (US$ 0.03) per cubic meter, and commercial and industrial tariffs as high as Rp. 10,000 ($1) per cubic meter that, even with cross-subsidies, the use of profits from one activity to cover the losses of another, local water utilities (PDAMs) are forced to sell water to the poor at a loss and thus avoid serving predominantly poor areas.

Further, there is neither law nor regulation that mandates utilities to specifically target equal service to the poor, and thus they do not. With a lack of incentives both legal and financial for PDAMs to expand connections, a needy poor are left to overpriced vendors, wells of various constructions, illegal taps, often polluted lakes and rivers, and the hope of rain.

Consumption of clean water is not just about drinking but also about sanitation. According to the World Health Organization, the availability of an improved water supply is known to dramatically reduce the transmission of diarrhea, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis A, and schistosomiasis, a disease that can lead to blindness, just to name a few.

Currently, the average household lacking a connection to piped water cannot afford to consume the Government established minimum monthly amount for basic health. With the basic level of water required for regular hand washing not available to the urban poor, the hope of having enough water to prevent a sudden onset of disease could literally go down the drain.

Here, the lack of piped water can compound a danger into a tragedy. Providing water connections to Indonesian urban poor not only ensures that the lives of those people who most desperately need it will be improved but also that the risk to the population at large will be reduced.

Indonesia has made significant strides in increasing access to improved water supply and in particular piped water. The country now needs to find its focus. There needs to be a concerted effort to address issues that if left alone will become systemic and regressive. In particular, the issue of tariffs charged by PDAMs should be reevaluated in terms that allow the utilities to expand and the poor to pay lower rates for a piped connection than they currently do to obtain water by less conventional means. The local governments must help; they must be willing to spurn cronyism and appoint managers that are capable of engaging PDAMs and facilitating expansion.

Also, the Central Government can facilitate growth through the use of explicit performance based subsidies such as Output Based Aid (OBA). Additionally, well targeted, Government/Donor matching grants can provide the capital necessary for initial PDAM expansion. The methods for improvement are many but the goal is singular; to improve the lives of the people that are being left behind, the poor. Availability of water is a basic necessity and a fundamental right for society; it provides health and dignity to the population and should be available to all Indonesians.

Posted in General @ 06 February 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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