Beyond Access to Water

BEYOND ACCESS > The multifaceted water supply in urban and peri-urban areas of Bandung and Jakarta, Indonesia

Human settlements dawned around the availability of fresh water sources. The emergence and development of cities –the centres of economic and socio-cultural activities– in the history of humanity brought about the logistical challenges of bringing water from distant sources. According to UNFPA, in 2030, cities will contain almost five billion people, where 80% are concentrated in developing nations, particularly in Asia and Africa. In Indonesia, one of the fastest growing nations of Asia, the most vital issue of this century is to cope with the fast growing demand for freshwater services in urban areas. The cities’ water problems are also not only about transporting water, but also to ensure that the water supply delivered to urban citizens contributes toward the intended positive development outcomes. The Indonesian water supply sector seems to largely focus on supply-oriented provision through expanding physical access. For instance, O’Rourke mentioned that the target of the first Drinking Water and Sanitation International Decade was interpreted by most sector agencies as a mandate to construct as many new systems as possible. However, the objectives of providing a water supply lie beyond physical access but rather to maintain dignity, protect people’s health, and avoid the excessive costs that prevent people from enjoying other basic needs. Poor water supplies have long been associated with water-related diseases, chemical exposure, and indirect health impacts resulting from reduced productivity and poor personal hygiene. Nevertheless, according to Mehta and colleagues, enhancing physical access is not enough; one should also consider “functionality”, which refers to the extent to which access enables people to gain positive personal, social, and economic outcomes.

In the supply-oriented provision, a centralised piped water supply system that delivers potable water to premises is viewed as the ideal mode of provision. Piped water, by far, may be the most efficient technological outlet to deliver water to densely populated cities and this technology remains the long-term goal for water supply sector development. Yet, for more than half of the population of developing regions, this infrastructure ideal is a hard-earned luxury: only half of the people of these regions had access to piped water. In South-east Asian countries, increased access to wells and springs contributed the most to realising the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Indeed, in the urban South, non-piped water sources are not merely an “alternative” to piped water but often serve as the dominant mode of water provision. While the larger part of many centralised water networks is managed by the public sector, there are many diverse institutional arrangements that make up the “alternative” provision systems.

Our focus is to highlight what’s beyond physical access to water and reveals the complexity of water provision in urban and peri-urban areas. This includes the functionality of water, the outcomes of water provision, and the diverse range of non-state provision systems also referred to as “multifaceted access”.


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This project is a PhD double degree program between ITB and Radboud University. Read the full PhD thesis in Radboud University repository.

See posts related to water supply:

Water Supply Challenges in the Developing World

Multifaceted Access to Water