Minimizing pressure on forests for cleaner, cheaper water

The Jakarta Post, Opinion and Editorial – October 04, 2004
Fitrian Ardiansyah and Israr A, Jakarta

During the past two months, many areas throughout the country have faced the everworsening seasonal water crisis. Drought has brought the misery to many and clean water is still a luxury for some people.

In big cities, people have had difficulty obtaining adequate supplies of fresh water. Manyfarmers could not harvest their crops because they could not irrigate them sufficiently. Cities in Sumatra have also experienced electricity shortages due to lack of water for hydro-power plants, while some areas in Kalimantan have become isolated because decreasing river levels affect river transportation. Meanwhile, people throughout the archipelago suffer from flooding and landslides every rainy season.

However, while many continue to suffer from water shortages, a collaborative action — between NGO activists in Lombok Island, the local water enterprise (PDAM) of Menang and the West Lombok regency and Mataram municipality administrations shows there is a solution to this resource problem.

After a survey that found the island’s water users were willing to protect water sources, these stakeholders have been designing schemes to link water users with Mount Rinjani landscape conservation.

With the support of local people, government officials and activists the protection of catchment areas could eventually provide eight important water sources for the urban areas on the island. These areas were originally only protected by forestry officials.

This effort in Lombok to implement a “payment for environmental services” is similar to what happened in Melbourne, a good example of how to provide sustainable urban water.

Well-known as “Smellbourne” in the 18th century due to its poor water quality, Melbourne officials ensured the protection and restoration of the city’s mountainous forest in the north and east. To date, the city obtains 90 percent of its drinking water supply from these areas, with the highest quality water of any Australian city.

It has proven that implementing forest catchment area management is cheaper than building a water treatment plant: Saving upper-catchment forests is the best way to have cheap and clean water.

Last year, the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund released a report entitled Running Pure showing one-third of 105 big cities, including New York, Tokyo, Barcelona and Melbourne, obtained much of their water through protected forests. It explained that preserving forests — which reduce landslides, erosion and sediment, improve water purity, and store water — is a cost-effective way of providing clean drinking water.

David Cassells, a World Bank environmental specialist, said protecting forest water catchment areas was no longer a luxury but a necessity. The costs of providing clean and safe drinking water to urban areas, said Cassels, would increase dramatically if forests disappeared.

However, managing these forests should not only be the responsibilities of forest dependent people, he said.

At the moment, the water supply imbalance in Indonesia has caused problems and hardship.

Although it has 10 percent of the world’s remaining tropical forests, the annual deforestation rate — through destructive logging and forest conversion to pulp wood, agriculture (oil palm and other commodities), mining, fires, human settlements and other infrastructure — reaching up to 3.8 million hectares annually, has left Indonesia ever-fewer natural resources and caused significant environmental damage, including the loss of forest functions to regulate water.

The degradation results in loss of high conservation values (including biodiversity), soil erosion, water pollution, increasingly dramatic fluctuations between water shortages and flooding, siltation, health problems, reduced potential for tourism and loss of income and employment, particularly for forest-dependent people.

Looking at the criteria from the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Settlements and Regional Infrastructure, a growing number of catchment areas can now be considered as critical, including Asahan (North Sumatra), Cisadane and Ciliwung (Banten/West Java/Jakarta).

This degradation is likely to inflate the numbers of people who will lack access to clean water for drinking and other domestic use. At the moment, about 77 million Indonesian people (about one-third of the population) do not have access to clean water and only depend on self-provisioning systems (i.e. 50 percent of urban households and most rural households are served by wells or small-water supply systems).

With dramatic disturbance to water supply and quality, people throughout the archipelago may have to continue living in poverty while suffering from limited availability of water — which many countries consider a basic human right.

The government needs to develop good and participative spatial planning taking into account landscape and ecosystem integration, and making sure the planning is enforced. The restoration scheme of the catchment areas needs to link end water users — including industries and PLN/electricity companies.

The private sectors, including logging, plantation, mining, real estate companies, situated in the catchment areas should actively participate in catchment management by implementing better practices covering protecting, maintaining and rehabilitating high conservation-value forests within their concessions and put efforts to ensure their protection and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the awareness about the interconnection between cities and catchment areas needs to be increased in Indonesia, especially in local governments that are now — in the era of decentralization — seemingly thinking that one can exist without the other.

It’s time for water users to start actively conserving the forests. If a local initiative in Lombok becomes a success story of how water catchment areas can increase the supply of fresh water, will cities like Jakarta and others follow?


Fitrian Ardiansyah is a program coordinator for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, while Israr A. is a staff at Indonesia Forest and Media Campaign (INFORM)

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