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Water crisis in Indonesia and how we can tackle it

Although Indonesia has made enormous progress in the supply of drinking water in recent decades, only 20 percent of Indonesians had access to piped water in 2022. Almost 70 percent of households still consume water that is contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria, and still more than 10% of children under the age of 5 die from diarrheal diseases caused by dirty drinking water.


Two years ago we published an article, asking the question “Will Bali run out of water this decade?” And the short answer was: Yes.


The water shortage in Indonesia is caused on the one hand by rapid demographic development, which is leading to an increasing demand for food and growing industry, and on the other hand by climate change.


Operation and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure in Indonesia is problematic and requires continuous subsidies and cyclical investments, which is why sustainable financing is crucial. Industry as a water user is a competitor to agricultural water users, therefore a clear strategy is needed on how to sustainably supply water to both sectors.


Inadequate regulation, monitoring and enforcement of industrial water pollution exacerbates the effects of water scarcity and stress such as in key river basins in Java. Finally, support through investment and capacity building is needed to strengthen evaluation and monitoring systems as they can help assess the impact of interventions, and their effectiveness, and enable adaptive management of water scarcity.


Climate crisis: Water shortage due to el Nino


El Nino’s predictions are largely confirmed as the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) already said months ago that the weather phenomena would recur this year. They warned that millions of Indonesians could face long-lasting drought with clean water shortages and crop failures.


According to government figures, over 90 per cent of the country reported a dry season, which is harsher than usual due to El Nino. Almost 50 million people in Indonesia had, and still have limited access to clean water. A state of emergency was declared in the Javanese provinces of Banten, West Java, Central Java and Yogyakarta, West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara.


Indonesia is very strongly affected by the effects of climate change, considering the extent and frequency of flooding, the duration of seasonal water shortages and the availability of water reserves. The severity of droughts in water-scarce areas also leads to severe water shortages during the dry season. Climate change poses enormous challenges for Indonesia in achieving its national development goals.



Bali: 113 villages are struggling with a severe shortage of clean water


The government of Bali for example declared a state of emergency for a fortnight on 20 October due to the current drought crisis. Acting Governor Sang Made Mahendra Jaya described the effects of the extreme weather conditions between July and October 2023. 113 villages are struggling with a severe shortage of clean water.


In addition, ten cases of forest and land fires have been recorded in Bali, including at the TPA Suwung landfill in Denpasar, which has been burning for several weeks, with significant impacts on people and the environment.


The water situation doesn’t look good at all. So what do we have to tackle the water crisis in Indonesia?


Good news: The Water Scarcity Programme (WSP) for water scarcity in Indonesia has been officially launched this year. It has been developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations with the support of the Australian government. One of its aims is to support countries in the Asia-Pacific region in taking practical measures to tackle water scarcity in the face of rapid population growth and climate change.


The WSP's main objective is to provide policy and technical support to help countries make agricultural water use sustainable and productive in the face of increasing water scarcity. This should contribute to water security, food security, resilient rural livelihoods and prosperity across the Asia-Pacific region, with an additional focus on achieving SDGs 2 and 6.


Also the 10th World Water Forum will be hosted in Indonesia. It’s the largest international meeting in the water sector to discuss the management of water resources with the involvement of various interest groups. Terra Water founder Christine Manson attended the stakeholder meeting this October in preparation for the World Water Forum planned for May 2024.


“Water is not only a technical issue, but also a political one”


Through the Forum, Indonesia aims to strengthen cooperation among various stakeholders in realizing the SDG targets on clean water and sanitation. There was also an online discussion (Forum Merdeka Barat 9) among others with Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency. He warned that the water crisis caused by climate change is becoming ever more apparent.


Many other aspects were mentioned and discussed, for example that there is no difference between industrialized and developing countries - all would suffer from droughts and floods as a result of rapid climate change. Excessive water utilization and environmental degradation reduce the availability of water. Furthermore, food security also depends on the availability of sufficient clean water.


A lack of access to clean water can affect productivity and the availability of food. In order to overcome the water crisis and improve food security, an integrated and sustainable approach is required. The government has developed strategies and programmes to protect water resources, for example the construction of 61 dams since 2014, which should be completed by 2024.


In order to tackle the problems of water conservation and preserve water resources, the commitment and cooperation of all is necessary - government, private sector and civil society. There is already a lot going on - we are on this journey together and will keep you updated! Stay tuned!



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