Why self supply solutions are needed to reach SDG 6.1

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN members Lieselotte Heederik and Steven Ramsey , based in Indonesia.

Only 9% of the 275 million Indonesians use piped water supplied by water utilities for their daily needs  and this percentage is decreasing.  In this Blog we talk why governments and other institutions should prioritize self-supply solutions.  We also discuss how decentralized water supply and treatment can help to  achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water.

To achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030, the Indonesian government and international institutions like the World Bank have focused on increasing piped water access. However, as in many developing countries in the global south, access to piped water in Indonesia remains exceedingly low. Local water utility companies, known as PDAM, only reach about 20% of Indonesian households, of which, less than half use PDAM water for their daily needs. Since only 9% of Indonesians use PDAM supplied water, this implies that 91% of Indonesia’s population use groundwater for domestic use. 91% of Indonesia’s population of 275 million people is around 250.25 million people. To put that number in perspective, that’s larger than the populations of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Denmark combined!

Can Piped Water Meet Indonesia’s Domestic Needs? 

Water utilities should serve 40 percent of the population by 2019. At least that was planned in the Indonesian Government’s 2015–2019 medium term development plan.  As we now know, this target was not met and was moved to the 2020–2024 plan. However the question remains, why does Indonesian government planning focus so heavily on piped water? One reason may come with the prestige that comes with having advanced public utility service.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that piped water will play a leading role in achieving universal access to safely managed drinking water, and here’s why: 

  1. For decades PDAMs have struggled to meet demand from rapid urbanization. This has led to groundwater overexploitation in many urban areas leading to land subsidence, most notably in Jakarta.
  2. Bulk raw water resources only supply 30 percent of total demand. With no clear path towards increasing supply, this has led to many PDAMs providing only intermittent service. 
  3. Higher tariffs incentivize PDAMs to prioritize water allocation to industrial usage. This is especially true in low income areas where tariff collection rates are lower. 
  4. Once a well is dug, groundwater is essentially free, compared with having to pay a monthly bill with PDAM water.

Even where access exists, the source is often not safely managed. 

With PDAMs struggling to meet even a quarter of domestic demand, it’s no surprise that water quality has taken the back burner. A government study conducted in 2020 found 148 PDAMs produced water that was not safe to drink. Another study in Yogyakarta found 77% of piped water was contaminated with e-coli. This isn’t to say that groundwater quality is any better, in fact it’s often worse, especially if coming from an unprotected source. One study in Jakarta found 24% of samples coming from a groundwater source had fecal matter compared with just 3% coming from piped water. Even bottled water isn’t necessarily free from contamination. In both aforementioned studies, e-coli was detected in water purchased from refill kiosks.

Village water supply. This is how most households in Indonesia get their -untreated- water to their houses. Treatment is necessary to make this safe for consumption. 

Solution: Decentralized, self-help centered water filters.

In order to achieve SDG target 6.1 Indonesia must achieve universal access to safely managed drinking water by 2030. However, only 12 percent of Indonesia’s population currently has such access. The 242 million Indonesians without access to safely managed drinking water cannot wait for expensive centralized utility projects and it’s unrealistic that these will reach all rural-communities. 

Surely, in certain contexts, such as high density urban areas, investing in piped water utilities may make sense. However, as Unicef states in their recent policy brief, self supply solutions with appropriate household water treatment are an important part of the safely managed water supply mix.  Household water treatment solutions provide households with a tool to filter rain, tap, and groundwater into water that is safe to drink in a matter of hours. Together, with investment in safe and sustainably managed groundwater, household water treatment solutions play a critical role in filling the gap between potable and safe drinking water.

About the authors:

Lieselotte (Lisa) Heedrik is the co-founder and director of Nazava Water Filters. Nazava is a social enterprise based in Indonesia, Kenya, and Ethiopia that produces ceramic, gravity based household water filters that are certified by WHO for bacterial removal. Nazava has sold over 200,000 units and has been exported to 32 countries worldwide. Lisa has over 15 years of International development experience and is passionate about embracing household solutions to reach SDG 6.
Steven Ramsey is a consultant with Nazava Water Filters with over 6 years experience working on water and climate resilience projects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Steven is a Fulbright alumnus and graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs where he concentrated on Global Energy & Environmental Policy. He is passionate about finding climate resilient solutions in the WASH sector. 

Featured photo: Water provided through tanks in a village in West Java. Treatment is necessary to make it safe for consumption.

Photo credits: Lisa Heedrick.

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit https://www.rural-water-supply.net/ to find out more

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