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The Crisis of Clean Water in the Riverbank Residents

by: Nadya Haira
Teaching Learning Assessor intern (Sekolah Sungai)


The rise of population growth has prompted higher water use. The necessity for good quality water means not just any readily available water but that which can be used to fulfill daily needs, such as drinking, bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, and gardening. Moreover, the needs of water has also increased.

The main sources of river water pollution/contamination in Indonesia come from domestic or household waste, generally in the form of feces, dish and clothing detergents, animal excrements, and fertilizers from plantations and farms. There are also traces in the water supply of medical drug contamination from sources such as birth control pills to pesticides and oil. Filth and urine waste contamination have played a role in increasing the levels of E. coli bacteria within the water. In big cities such as Jakarta and Yogyakarta, the levels of E. coli are outside the normal range not only in the river but also in the underground well water in the areas where residents live. Contaminated water such as those seen in Indonesia can cause different sorts of diseases, such as: Diarrhea, Hepatitis A, Lead poisoning, Malaria, and Polio.

According to WHO, in every year there are 1.7 million kids who die from diarrhea brought by an unhealthy environment, mainly because of contaminated water. In Indonesia, clean water is a provision ensured in Article 33 UUD 1945 passage (3) which peruses “Earth and water and the natural resources contained therein are controlled by the state and are utilized for the greatest prosperity of the general population”.

“Bumi dan udara dan sumber daya alam yang terkandung di dalam didukung oleh negara dan digunakan untuk kemakmuran terbesar rakyat”.

More recently, the policy was emphasized in Law No. 23 of  2014 concerning Regional Government, reaffirming that fulfillment of clean water for the community is one of the responsibility and obligations of the administration and local government as part of the public services.

The National Socio-Economic Survey (Susenas) by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) noticed an expansion in households which have access to decent drinking water sources in Indonesia. In 2012 just 65.05 percent of households units had access to decent drinking water sources. In 2014, 68.11 percent of households had such access. This figure rose again in 2017 to 72.04 percent. The low access to clean water was because of problems in the implementation of drinking water and sanitation. On a global scale the problems are:

(a) The scale of the need – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to Half the World’s Population.

The slight scale of the issue is a test in itself. It will be no little accomplishment for half the world’s population to get sustained access to safe water, essential sanitation and great good hygiene practices (and to do as such in 15 years). In fact, critical institutions like health care facilities and schools lack water and sanitation. A study in 54 low- and middle-income countries found that 38% of health care facilities lack access to an improved water source, 19% lack sanitation and 35% do not have water and soap for handwashing (World Health Organization & United Nations’ Children’s Fund, 2015). The scale of the need will increase, especially as populations grow, available freshwater is utilized and polluted at increasing rates and the climate changes.

(b) Maintaining Long-Term Water, Sanitation and Cleaning Services

The focus over the past few decades has been on water and sanitation infrastructure. This approach requires a highly educated, skilled workforce and often does not reach the most marginalized communities. All the while the poorest communities are most lacking in quality water and sanitation. Nearly all the poorest 25% of the world lacks tap water and coverage inequalities between rich and poor are even greater for sanitation than water (Joint Monitoring Program of UNICEF and WHO, 2014). The ongoing operation and maintenance of this infrastructure is very challenging. For example, 30% of water pumps in Africa do not work. The failure of community water and sanitation systems is often a failure of operation and maintenance, not because of failure of basic technology. Moreover, public awareness to conduct clean and healthy lifestyles is also still low. They do not care about the sources of water itself and just use it.

Furthermore, according to the United Nations, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water, three billion people do not have adequate sanitation services, and the death rate from infectious diseases through less clean water reaches three million deaths per year. In addition to people who live in areas with poor water availability, poor water quality causes those who live near water bodies to also have difficulty in accessing clean water and good sanitation. River water pollution, such as from industry, agriculture, and domestic activities, burdens the river so that it is no longer able to provide people living in the vicinity with good quality water. Residents of the riverbank are currently forced to use dirty water for daily activities.


This phenomenon can be seen in Jogja. There are three major rivers as the heart of the city including Gajah Wong River, Winongo River and Code River. One of the rivers that deserves the spotlight is the Gajah Wong river. Behind the beauty and splendor of the city of Yogyakarta, it turns out there is still one urgent matter that is still neglected and lacks attention: the Gajah Wong River.

Garbage is still scattered here and there. The mountain of garbage have become a common sight for people around the river. Gajah Wong River has experienced pollution due to the disposal of organic and inorganic waste from the surrounding environment. Most of the garbage around the Gajah Wong river is the waste of plastic food wrap. In addition to the mountainous waste around the Gajah Wong river, the color of river water has changed to black and moldy due to pollutants originating from deposits of organic waste.

Gajah Wong river is located in the middle of the city and also near the Sunan Kalijaga UIN, a fact which has led to the construction of many boarding houses near the river. The accumulation of garbage is due to the lack of control of the people (including UIN students). They use the river bank as the location closest to dispose of their garbage every day. Even though around Gajah Wong river, it is difficult to find land or infiltration wells during the rainy season.

This greatly affects the people who live in the villages around the riverbanks. One of their main water sources is from the Gajah Wong river. When the river is polluted, they will find it difficult to find the availability of other clean water to use in their daily needs such as bathing, washing dishes and clothes. As a result, they will forcefully use the Gajah Wong river water.

Moreover, since 2013, there is no longer a river that meets quality standards or is in good condition (not contaminated with waste or any impurities). The number of rivers with fulfilling status to light pollutants is also zero per 2014. Meanwhile, the moderate-polluted status of the river per 2015 is zero. Similarly, the number of heavily polluted rivers has a smaller number. That is, rivers that meet quality standards or in good conditions are increasingly difficult to find. Not surprisingly, households increasingly rely on bottled water as a source of decent drinking water, along with the deteriorating quality of rivers in Indonesia. This problem regarding water needs serious handling, if Indonesia does not want to experience a water crisis in 2025. Water crises can also lead to conflict.

Therefore, as almost all human activities require water, the need is absolute. Water is also the right of life for every person protected by laws that must be fulfilled. In addition, deteriorating water quality will increase the costs that must be incurred in obtaining clean water sources and are suitable for consumption. Not only the government, the community also has to maintain clean water sources so they are not contaminated.


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