Indonesia – Jakarta, Water (never) for all
Water (never) for all
Sri Wahyu Safitri, a primary school teacher who lives in Marunda, near North Jakarta’s coast, never feels clean, even after a bath.
“My skin always feels sticky — as if there is a layer of something on it — even after bathing. Perhaps it is because the water is already contaminated by salt water and the industrial waste around here so the substances stick on me,” she said.
Like many in the area, she gets water for her daily activities primarily from shallow groundwater wells, affected by saltwater intrusion. She has little choice as most coastal areas still have no access to piped water.
“It is not unusual to find students absent because of diarrhea. It can be from the food they take or from the water they drink.”
Jakarta’s centralized water supply is over 100 years but piped water does not to reach everyone, most notably the poor.
Why? One of the reasons is because it was never designed to reach all, Michelle Kooy, a Canadian researcher, told The Jakarta Post.
Michelle has spent three years researching Jakarta’s water supply from documents and field work. This report is based on her research and interviews with her.
“During the Dutch era it was for the Dutch people. During the Sukarno period, it is for the new rich so they could show the modern Indonesia. During the Soeharto period, water service was meant to serve economic growth rather than social fairness. Universal coverage has never been the goal,” Michelle said.
Jakarta’s water supply began with seven artesian wells in the 1870s. Before that, all the city’s residents — then called Batavia — relied on river water and shallow groundwater, using different purification methods.
However, the growing European studies linking cholera with water consumption — coupled with the sense of European cultural superiority — created a demand for an urban water supply system that would provide superior water quality to select citizens — the Europeans.
The supply went to their residences located near the now Monument National, to the north toward the Old Town and to the south toward Menteng area.
“The city’s first water supply infrastructure facilitated the desired division between races (European versus native) and the urban area residences (European suburbs and well-planned residential areas versus the villages),” Michelle wrote.
Between 1910 and 1920, long after the 1901 Ethical Policy, four hydrants were installed for the indigenous urban population of over 116,740 residents.
The hydrants were located near the European residential and commercial areas, ignoring the north area where the need was great due to floods and poor groundwater quality.
During that period, some 60,000 native residents died in one year due to cholera and typhus pandemics.
In the 1920s, the city began using spring water from Bogor. This time, other urban populations received their share, albeit at a higher price and at a lower allocation.
“Design criteria explicitly stated a production capacity that could serve 90 percent of the European households with 140 liters/capita/day, 60 percent of Chinese and Foreign Easterner households with 100 liters and 30 percent of native households with 65,” Michelle wrote.
The Dutch council also decided to give free hydrant water to the locals, but not for long.
They were losing money and began charging local water vendors. When it reached the customers, the price was double what the piped water users paid. As expected, the consumers fell back to their former ways of obtaining water.
In a six-year span, from 1924 to 1930, the amount of money the municipality spent to supply water to hydrants had decreased by 95 percent.
The supply system was destroyed during the war for independence. It was rebuilt in the early 1950s, with the construction of the first large scale surface water treatment plants, Pejompongan 1 and Pejompongan 2 in Central Jakarta.
The amount of water increased tenfold but distribution still was through the existing infrastructure to the ex-European residential areas which were now occupied by local elites. A new water network was laid to new areas such as Senayan and Kebayoran Baru in South Jakarta.
“Sukarno’s idea to build up selective areas in the city to world-class standards to show off Indonesia did not improve the water supply,” Michelle said.
In 1959, only 15 percent of the population was served with piped water.
“The exclusion forced people to continue their traditional way of relying on shallow wells and using surface water for washing and bathing,” Kooy said.
The beginning of the Soeharto era was no better, she said. At that time water was channeled to economically productive industrial and commercial areas and to upper-class areas in Menteng, Kuningan, Kebayoran Baru and later to new elite residential compounds such as Pondok Indah in South Jakarta.
There was a sufficient volume of water to service up to 60 percent of the population, but it was limited to 15 percent.
By 1992, a 24-hour water supply was still considered an amenity when purchasing property. Water was channeled to gated residential areas. Again people without access to piped water were paying more as the few water hydrants available created water cartels who sold water to the urban poor. Water theft became widespread.
In 1998, PAM Jaya signed contracts with private water supply companies from France and the UK; distribution expansion was one of the contract terms.
“Jakarta’s case is special, different from other privatizations. The private companies wanted to get the water to the people because they charged PAM Jaya based on the volume of water they sold, not the price of water sold to the customers.
“But there were problems. The very rich (in the South) did not want piped water because they still had good ground water. The poor who wanted water did not get it because the government wouldn’t let them — due to higher costs. Besides, many of the poor do not have proper documentation for their houses,” she said.
Water provision still divides the haves from the have-nots, the legal from the illegal, she said.
“It has been the government’s policy to not service any kampung with illegal residents, nor is it in PAM Jaya’s mandate.”
PAM Jaya said its goal is to have all the residents without access to quality water to have piped water by 2020 and the water companies plan to expand their networks north in the next four years.
Marunda teacher Sri and her diarrhea-vulnerable students still have to shower with salty water for at least another 1,460 days.