Water Supply Challenges in the Developing World

by Anindrya N

The financial investment for water supply has increased gradually since the United Nation’s water decades on the 80’s. It gained its momentum after the declaration of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly Target 7c: to halve the population without improved drinking water; the commitments translated into the numbers of domestic and foreign aids are rising in meeting 2015 target, as well as embracing post-2015 water development agenda. Nevertheless, the injustice of water poverty and the high number of water-related diarrhea and its associated impacts in children remain; a signal of collective failure in achieving development outcomes from water supply delivery. It therefore putting into question the effectiveness of traditional modes of delivery: the focus on hardware, that is expanding physical access, rather than the software, that is targetting the instutional aspects, of water supply provision.

The downgraded grand water target in the last decade, ‘some for all and more for some’, is upscaled through the ambitious target to achieve universal access to safe and sustainable drinking water in post-2015 agenda. But, many developing countries are struggling to fill the gaps in MDGs 7c target to be on-track by 2015, not to mention reducing inequalities in safe and sustainable drinking water. BAPPENAS, the Ministry of National Planning, reported that access to improved water in Indonesia was 42.75% in 2011; and that there was a slight decline of improved drinking water access in urban area, from 49.82% in 2009 to 40.52% in 2011, caused by at least two contributing factors: the population growth and an increasing preference of bottled water. Moreover, piped water coverage is still low, only 47 % in urban area while MDGs target aims for 80% by 2015.

The condition of access in urban Indonesia drinking water sector is exhaustively illustrated in the report of Indonesia Water Investment Roadmap 2011-2014. “Self-provision is still the main mode of access to water for households throughout Indonesia.. In urban areas, about 50% of urban dwellers buy water… There is a grey area between piped and water received from vendors because surveys indicate that most vendors obtain water from piped water taps and carries it to the area beyond the piped network.”  Further the document elaborate that half of urban households rely on ground water without extraction fee and bottled water for drinking purpose since both surface and ground pollution is exacerbating. In addition to the declining of urban coverage at a rate of 2.2 % per year, the problems with service quality is also ominous, making the gap to achieve universal access to sustainable drinking water more immense.

Water supply service is occasionally more severe in marginalized parts of cities, among others, slum dwellings and peri-urban area undergoing physical exclusion as well as social exclusion. Slum settlements are often built in the area not intended for housing, such as floodplain area; and peri-urban area swiftly sprawling beyond urban infrastructure development. Therefore, formal urban water service planning does not reach the households living in such city zones. Zaki Yamani, an investigative journalist, had documented governance failure in drinking water service provision for low income community in urban Bandung, reflected by low piped-water service proportion, inadequate quality, quantity, and continuity, the presence of privatization in several tiers, illegal connection, high cost burden to the poor, and low trust to the public service provider. Combination of low service quality by public institutions, limitation of resource in poor community, and high demand of this vital infrastructure as the very basic need, has led to the flourish of informal service provision or many other practices driven by needs, for example, water vending and groundwater exploitation.

The eminent collective failure shifts focus on reform to the governance and political economy of water. It is too widely agreed to be ignored that water crisis is merely a governance crisis, not a water scarcity or technological absence . According to, “…water crisis is a governance crisis, which features include amongst others territorial fragmentation, multiple and interdependent stakeholders across policy areas and levels of government, lack of capacity of sub-national governments, weak institutional, integrity and regulatory frameworks and patchy financial management.” The ambitious target to achieve universal access to safe and sustainable drinking water in post-2015 agenda will inevitably requires a reform in water institutions. The challenge is greater when drinking water is managed in multi-level context, such in decentralized setting in Indonesia.

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