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Water Worries: What’s Wrong With Jakarta's Water and What Can Be Done?

Water Worries
A boy bathing his younger sibling in a slum in Penjaringan, North Jakarta. (Photo: Safir Makki, JG)
Is there a more crucial natural resource than water? Forgotten, abused or taken for granted, water dwarfs everything else when it comes to sustaining life.

But Jakarta lives with a perpetual water crisis that recalls an African proverb: “Filthy water cannot be washed.” For millions of Jakarta residents this is painfully true. There is not enough clean water for daily living, and dirty water, in the form of contamination and floods, brings disease and disaster.

Jakarta loses hundreds of millions of dollars to floods that seem inevitable. Partially caused by man-made garbage that blocks our canals and waterways, they are a painful reminder of a flawed infrastructure. Floodwater, and the almost total lack of a citywide sewage system, causes health problems, leads to lost productivity and destroys property.

Filthy floodwater pollutes the water system, one of many reasons why we can’t drink from the tap, and contaminates groundwater wells that provide up to 30 percent of the city’s water. Those wells, unfortunately, contribute to the gradual sinking of Jakarta, which in turn means that tidal flooding is growing steadily worse.

All of these problems are connected, and there is no simple way to “wash” the crisis clean. Nothing short of firm central and local government leadership, hard work, public participation and lots of money will save us and our city from disaster.

The time to act is now.


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