For Oswar Mungkasa, the head of planning and budgeting at the Public Housing Ministry, it is evident where the blame for the state of the country’s heavily polluted rivers lies.
“I once spoke with a low-income family that had a habit of going to the bathroom on riverbanks, and they said they had no issues with it whatsoever,” he said.
“Yet it is this very practice that is responsible for 80 percent of the pollution in our rivers.”
The problem is not limited to low-income residents. Most households, Oswar said, are guilty of polluting groundwater sources and rivers with indiscriminate defecation.
“Fifty-five percent of all households don’t have access to clean water, while the same percentage don’t have proper sanitation systems, which leads to them to dump their waste untreated,” he said.
“This alone accounts for 80 percent of groundwater pollution and explains why river water is contaminated with the E. coli bacteria.”
This problem, Oswar pointed out, has led to health costs and other expenses that have cost the Indonesian state Rp 58 trillion ($6.6 billion) a year.
He added that an estimated 70 million Indonesians defecate indiscriminately but that it was a bad habit that could be broken.
“It’s important to raise public awareness, through an education campaign, about the dangers of dumping anywhere you want,” he said at a recent discussion on water and hygiene issues in Indonesia.
“Clean water and sanitation are basic needs that require public support and government planning to bring about.”
Alfred Nakatsuma, the environmental director at USAID, said the problem of a lack of access to clean water is common among developing countries, where, ironically, poor people have to pay more for water because they are not served by tap water networks.
To that end, USAID rolled out its Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IUWASH) project in March 2010 to increase access to safe water for two million people and provide sanitation for 200,000 people.
The program, set to run for six years, is expected to reach poor populations in urban areas and address the challenges that water utilities face in ensuring water access and availability, such as climate change and increasing water demand in urban areas.
The IUWASH program was launched to help Indonesia attain its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on improved access to clean water and sanitation, part of a United Nations initiative.
Under MDG guidelines, the government must halve the number of people without access to drinking water or sanitation services by 2015.
Additional reporting from Antara