Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Indonesia: Rebuilding Aceh's Water Infrastructure Must Involve Everyone
January 2005

Contributed for ADB Water for All E-Newsletter by Muni Mulyono, journalist of the Jakarta Post in Indonesia and member of the ADB Water Media Network STRUCK BY DISASTER Home to Sumatra's largest remaining tropical forests, Aceh is well-known for its abundant water resources. It is a cruel irony that today fresh water is a scarce commodity in this resource-rich province — the result of the recent earthquake and tsunamis, which destroyed nearly all of the water infrastructure in the western part of Aceh and the communities of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh. Azahari Ali, the head of the Aceh water company (PDAM), said that the disaster had destroyed almost all of the 65 water installations in the province. As of January 11, only five water installations were still functioning. The latest data from the Public Works Ministry reveals that the region's irrigation infrastructure has been devastated as well. Some 50,000 hectares in seven of the province's 18 regencies have been damaged by the tsunamis, creating immense difficulties for thousands of Acehnese farmers. PICKING UP THE PIECES Thankfully, the reconstruction effort has begun. Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto confirmed that the central government has started relief efforts in the water sector in Aceh and other parts of Northern Sumatra. Their goal— complete reconstruction within the next five years. Along with houses, roads and markets, water infrastructure is now a priority. In the meantime, people have to survive on limited resources. Currently, most people in Aceh rely on bottled water for drinking. In some locations, refugees consume fresh water from several installations developed by both local and foreign volunteers and non-government organizations (NGOs). Most Acehnese farmers in the western part of the province, whose farmlands have been badly damaged, have yet to go back to farming after the tsunamis. Known for their pride, however and despite living in refugee camps, they are already returning to their farms sporadically to see if they can start to eke out a living. There is no doubt that rebuilding the water infrastructure for both drinking and irrigation purposes is a necessity. In order to achieve this, the government should include all parties in the process. A CASE FOR GREATER PARTICIPATION HS Dillon, the chairman of the Partnership for Governance Reform and an agricultural expert, suggests that the government involve locals in re-designing and rebuilding Aceh's water infrastructure. He has a good point. The Acehnese are known for their pride and defending their principles. Their history points to this through their years of defying the Dutch, not to mention the ongoing tensions with the Indonesian central government since 1976. They will certainly defy anything developed without their consent or against their will. Furthermore, reconstruction presents an opportunity to actually expand the number of piped, drinking water connections. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AS SOLUTION TO WATER SCARCITY Nila Ardhiani of the Coalition for People's Rights of Water (KRUHA) said that public participation is the best formula to rebuild connections and deliver fresh water to more Acehnese than before the tsunamis. Before the disaster, the utilities in 11 regions in Aceh delivered to less than 5 percent of a 4.5 million population. Rather than building up the PDAM infrastructure as the only fresh water producer in Aceh, as was done previously, the central government must allow local communities to develop and manage water infrastructure and delivery themselves. Involving the public in redesigning and rebuilding the infrastructure in Aceh will benefit both the central government and locals, who know best what their needs are.

Firstly, it suits the era of greater autonomy currently being adopted in Indonesia. Secondly, small-scale water installations, derived from a large number of surface and ground water resources, will enable locals to manage and maintain the system as well as restore it quickly if natural disasters occur again. Thirdly, public participation in managing water infrastructures will benefit the environment as locals will be responsible for the conservation of the environment surrounding water resources. This could lead to a reduction in illegal logging, which has been so prevalent in Aceh that it reduced a significant amount of existing forests in the province. In addition, the reconstruction project could absorb thousands of jobless refugees, who must continue their lives and find livelihoods. The case for greater public participation applies equally to the irrigation sector. While the government may still retain the authority to build, maintain and manage dams, it should give farmers greater autonomy to handle water connection to their farmlands. THE CHALLENGE AHEAD Aceh's water infrastructure faces great challenges. Through the community-led approach, however, there is no doubt that a better and more expansive water system can rise in the place of such destruction and devastation.

____________________________ Following the devastating tsunamis in South and South East Asia, journalists from the water media network were commissioned to provide their personal thoughts on the tragedy from a water perspective. The proceeds received from this article will be given to a foundation helping journalists in Aceh who survived the Tsunami. Ms. Mulyono can be contacted at *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in January 2005: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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