Water to Me

Too much water may scare you. Remember tsunamis and floods?

No water will also scare you. The scene of severe drought is no stranger to your eyes.

What was once considered free and available in limitless supply is now scarce and precious. In some parts of the world, water has become more important than oil or jewelry. Experts warn the situation will probably spread around the globe, accelerated by the worsening situation of climate change.

The world’s water consumption rises exponentially, while the availability of clean water tends to diminish due to, among others, damage on water reservoirs and worsening pollution.

Indonesia has six per cent of the world water supplies or about 21% of Asia-Pacific water supply. However, scarcity and lack of access to water are widely found across the country. Rising consumption of ground water, water pollution and the impact of climate change have worsened the situation. Many Indonesians do not have access to clean water.

While many people believe that the most popular water pollutants come from various wastes from industries, households and agricultural activities also share the blame.

On the other hand, water emerges as one of the world’s vital commodities. The International Conference on Water and Environment held in 1992 in Dublin, Ireland, gave birth to The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development (better known as the “Dublin Principles”). One of these principles stipulates that:

Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

Thus it is not unexpected that many conflicting interests resolve around water. Conflicts on water management, conservation, exploitation and capitalization are unavoidable. The government officials, parliamentarians, environmental activists, scientists, business people and community members often involve in disputes on water management, accusing one another to have monopolized, exploited or violated other people’s rights to access and manage water.

Many of these tensions were partly caused by variety of perceptions toward water. For the people of the archipelago, water has many dimensions. Philosophy of life was born and revolves around, among others, awareness of the need and importance of water. The Indonesians view on water partially define their lives, their philosophy on water shape their train of thoughts and invigorate their innovations in engineering. Southeast Asia Historian Anthony Reid said the residents of Nusantara (archipelago) consume enormous amount of water for drinking and bathing.

One of the facts that water is so important to Indonesian people is symbolized by the practice of naming places. In the ancient West Java’s Pasundan era, almost all the towns and villages have their names begin with Ci -, which means water or river. In the Malay community or the Minangkabaus, they name many places after water, such as Air Bangis and Air Hadidi. The Javanese also named several areas after water, such as Banyutibo and Banyumas . Meanwhile, for the people of Palembang, water has an important role in determining location of settlement.

Historians have told the tales of many civilizations built out of water or destroyed by it. Both nature and mismanagement have given water a destructive power. Floods and tsunamis have taken so many lives, while outbreaks of deadly diseases transmitted via water had changed the course of history of so many nations.

Consequently regulations and policies are essential tools to manage water resources. Since Indonesia gain independence in 1945, the government had tried to regulate the water supply and its management. At present, the National Council on Water Resource is the lead coordinating agency on water resource management. It was established in 2008 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as an instrument to safeguard and put into operation the 2004 Law on Water Resource.

Besides the need of legislation and governance of water management, awareness promotion and public communications are pivotal to improve the country’s water condition. A failure to aggressively promote behavioral change—particularly among low-income families and slum dwellers—has further worsened Indonesia’s water and sanitation situation.

UNICEF Indonesia says the country’s water and sanitation conditions are very poor, resulting in high rates of susceptibility to water-related diseases, especially among children. In 2004, only half of Indonesia’s population obtained its water from sources further than 10 meters from excreta disposal sites – a universal standard for water safety. Access to clean water helped prevent an outbreak of major illnesses such as cholera.

On the other side, water touches every industry, every sector and every aspect of economic growth—and in fact can be a prerequisite for growth: among the world’s poor countries, those with access to improved water and sanitation services experience an annual average growth nearly four percent greater than those with the same per capita income but without the same access to water.

As little as a decade ago, people held government responsible for ready access to clean water and the stewardship of water resources. As supplies dwindle, this is changing. In recent years, some the most meaningful strides have been made by business in collaboration with NGOs, multilateral agencies, and national, state and local governments.

From companies providing innovative technologies for clean water and developing new business models for sustainable water use, business is acknowledging its responsibility.

And with this responsibility comes the opportunity to innovate, lead, collaborate and ultimately, be part of the solution.