Friday, 5 April 2013

Indonesia is just one example: introducing the International Year of Water Co-Operation

Image (c) UN
World Water Day was just a few weeks ago, on 22nd March, and this time around it’s part of 2013’s special International Year of Water Co-Operation. While I’ll write more about water, health and development in coming months, the poster below gives some impression of just how many individuals, informal groups, charities and organisations have been active in the fight to provide universal, accessible, clean and safe water for all the world’s population on World Water Day. 

Image (c) UN
At the same time, world leaders are meeting throughout the year to seek ways to co-operate and fund initiatives to make these goals a reality for everyone. On World Water Day itself there was a High Level Forum at the Hague and a High-Level Interactive Dialogue (love those crushingly literal antieuphemisms!) at the UN headquarters in New York and other summit meetings are planned in Stockholm, Tajikistan and Norway throughout the year.

To give some idea of the considerations and challenges which arise when looking at water and development I want to take USAID’s work in Indonesia as a case study, based on recently released details of their initiatives there as part of the $33 million, five-year IUWASH (Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Project. In support of the country’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) regarding improvements in water provision and sanitation, IUWASH reaches out across more than 50 municipalities, helping up to 2 million people in urban areas access safe water and improving sanitation for many others

According to USAID,
  • Around 40% of Indonesia’s urban households have access to clean water
  • Just over 50% have basic sanitation
  • In all, 75% do not have “adequate sanitation”
  • Poorer families are disproportionately affected – so, as in so many places, there is a gap in privilege, resources, access, opportunities and advocacy (that is, the clout to be heard and make social changes) between the richest and poorest. 

The principal barrier to safe, piped water in urban areas in Indonesia is financial: the installation and connection charge of between $150 and $300 might be as much as three months’ an average earner’s salary – USAID cite a typical example of a vegetable seller and mother of two from Jiyu, earning $2-$3 a day which barely covers essentials as it is. For those without access to piped water, water must be collected and carried from the nearest river or reservoir, a task which is extremely arduous, time-consuming and inefficient. One person can only bring as much water as they can carry. This must be shared amongst the family and amongst cooking, bathing and clothes-washing requirements.

A further difficulty is that in the implementation of a piped water network, a number of processes, vested interests and various groups must be aligned. Strategy, goals, budgets, funding, decisions and policy come from the government, with or without the collaboration of other governments, agencies or funds internationally; geographical planning, irrigation, building and the establishment of utilities, sanitation and facilities will all be handled by private businesses and so on.

Photo (c) USAID Indonesia project

With access achieved, the next issue to tackle is sanitation. USAID estimates that in Indonesia

  • only about 2% of urban households are connected to sewerage systems
  • up to 18% of urban dwellers must defecate openly, without facilities for the removal of waste
Here, the solution is consciousness-raising about sanitation issues and good practice, people’s unity in improving conditions for everyone and the importance of local leadership in effecting change among multiple households, encouraging families to build improved sanitation facilities like latrines, practice good hygiene (which can be as simple, but effective, as hand-washing, medicated cleaning products and the separate of areas for different tasks). The swift and obvious success of these often-simple measures – such as a steep decrease in rates of diarrhoea and an increase in general health – often inspires communities to go further in terms of grassroots local development, towards recycling and composting.

This is achieved through all parties pulling their weight. IUWASH and similar initiatives must bring together all these different parties to ensure long-term planning and delivery and create a new, different, sustainable future.

Bidisha is a 2013 Fellow for the International Reporting Project. She is reporting on issues of global health and development.