Lessons Learned from the Analysis of Community-Based Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program (PAMSIMAS) in Indonesia

This is a guest blog by RWSN members D. Daniel, Trimo Pamudji Al Djono, and Widya Prihesti Iswarani, based in Indonesia.

Data tell us many things. We can learn the patterns of any phenomenon using data. In this blog, we bring you to the archipelago country of Indonesia where water access is still a challenge, especially in rural areas. As of 2020, only 82% of households in rural Indonesia have access to basic water services, while almost 95% of urban households enjoy those water services.

To tackle this, the Indonesian government launched the community-based drinking water supply program, called “Program Penyediaan Air Minum dan Sanitasi Berbasis Masyarakat (PAMSIMAS)” in 2007. Almost 22 million people in 32 thousand villages throughout Indonesia got PAMSIMAS access from 2008 to 2020. PAMSIMAS is one of the biggest rural water supply programs in the world. Unfortunately, not many stories from PAMSIMAS are shared with the global community, so we are here to tell you the story!

PAMSIMAS infrastructure

PAMSIMAS is conducted at the village level and managed by the community itself. If we talk about functionality, the data in 2020 indicates that 85.4% of the PAMSIMAS programs were fully functioning, 9.1% were partially functioning, and 5.5% were not functioning. Thus, we can say that the success rate for this program is quite high.

The main question now is what can we learn from the PAMSIMAS program? Here are some lessons learned from our study:

First, household connections have a higher chance of being sustainable (99%) than communal or public connection (69%), e.g., public tap. We can relate it to the payment system. Almost 40% of the communal connections had no payment system, compared to only 3.5% of the household connection. From the field experience, it is relatively challenging to implement and collect water fees in the communal systems, especially because there is no water meter measuring the actual use of households. We should take into account also that other people from outside often come and draw water without paying for it, which can cause jealousy from the actual beneficiaries and make them hesitate to continue paying for the water service.  All of these can result in not enough money for the water board to maintain and repair any damage in the system.

Second, let’s talk about the contribution made by the community or beneficiaries toward the program. We all agree that it is important for the community to contribute to the program, either in form of in-kind, e.g., in the program planning, pipe and system construction, etc., or in-cash, e.g., monthly tariff or construction cost. We may think that the more people participate in those activities, the higher the chance of the water service being sustainable. And yes, it is true. However, our analysis found that community contribution in the form of regular-monthly payment is more influential than in-kind contributions at the beginning of the project to sustain the PAMSIMAS program. We again highlight that regular payment by the beneficiaries is important to sustain the program.

PAMSIMAS infrastructure

Third, the success of the rural water supply program cannot be achieved without favorable human factors, such as a well-performing water board and good support or contributions from the community. For the former, we suggest that mentoring of the village water board by the district facilitator can be done to ensure that the water board has sufficient capacity to efficiently manage the piped system, e.g., repair broken pipes or implement cost-effective operation & maintenance.

Fourth, financial support from the national and district government is critical, e.g., by providing extra subsidies or incentives outside the main fund scheme. In this case, only well-performing water boards or PAMSIMAS programs have a chance to apply for these extra funds. Thus, this will trigger the water board to perform well before they apply for it. In short, we need support from all governmental levels: national, district, and village.

Fifth, we have to understand the relationship between water board performance and support from the community. Let’s have a look, for example, at monthly payments: the well-performing water boards will increase the trust of the community and minimize any interruption in water delivery. As a result, the community would be happy to pay the water fee regularly and support the water board activities. In other words, this will create positive conditions for the water board.

Lastly, we know that water access is a human right. We (and the government) are trying to provide water to everyone in need, especially vulnerable groups, e.g., poor people or those who live in difficult areas. On behalf of human rights, the government is willing to spend a lot of money on those groups, which may result in a very high investment per capita. Some reasons for the high investment per capita are a small number of beneficiaries, wide coverage area of the water supply system, or scattered housing in remote areas. However, our analysis found that a high investment per capita is not associated with a sustainable PAMSIMAS program. We don’t want to say stop providing water for them, but rather the need for a comprehensive economic analysis and system design in the feasibility study before the project starts.

There are many things to share with you but we don’t have enough space to write everything here. If you are still curious, please check our scientific publications about PAMSIMAS below. See you!

Factors related to the functionality of community-based rural water supply and sanitation program in Indonesia. Geography and Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geosus.2022.12.002

The effect of community contribution on the functionality of rural water supply programs in Indonesia. Groundwater for Sustainable Development. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gsd.2022.100822

A System Dynamics Model of the Community-Based Rural Drinking Water Supply Program (PAMSIMAS) in Indonesia. Water. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13040507

About the authors:

(D.) Daniel is a lecturer and researcher at Public Health Graduate program, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. His main topics of interest are water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) system in rural areas, household water treatment practice/behaviour, the sustainability of WASH services, drinking water quality at the household level, and public health issue in general.

Trimo Pamudji Al Djono has 25 years of experience in community development and empowerment programs/projects in urban and rural. Trimo has worked for the World Bank for 14 years managing national programs and has experience as a researcher and lecturer by becoming a Lecturer in Environmental Engineering at the Jakarta Sapta Taruna College (STTST) and Singaperbangsa Karawang University. Other experiences include working as a consultant at GHD, Plan International, Unicef, UNIDO, Aguaconsult, and NORC University of Chicago.

Widya Prihesti Iswarani is a lecturer/researcher in the field of environmental science and engineering. She is currently working at Avans University of Applied Sciences and Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy in The Netherlands. Her main topics of interest are water and wastewater treatment, resource recovery, and the sustainability of WASH in developing countries.

Photo credits: D. Daniel, Trimo Pamudji Al Djono, and Widya Prihesti Iswarani