Addressing the wastewater challenge in Indonesia

Addressing the wastewater challenge in Indonesia

Overall access to improved sanitation in Indonesia has increased from 35% to 59% over the past 25 years, while access to improved sanitation in urban areas is estimated to be at 71%. However, these figures obscure the fact that the vast majority of urban sanitation coverage does not ensure safe separation of human waste from human contact. The risk in urban areas is acute, because more than 50% of the urban population uses ground water for domestic purposes (WHO 2012), which is contaminated by human waste that ends up untreated in water ways or marginal land.

According to 2014 data from the Ministry of Public Works, 34.3 million Indonesians are living in slums. Addressing sanitation in these areas is challenging because of population density, land ownership issues, social and economic factors, and not in the least because many of these slums are situated on marginal flood prone land. Only 3% of the urban population is connected to centralized sewerage systems, 1% of the urban population is served through decentralized community-managed waste water systems (DEWATS), 14% still practices open defecation, and the rest relies on on-site facilities such as septic tanks. But 80% of septic tanks are estimated to be failing, and only 10% of the country's 168 septage treatment plants are functioning. This means that the wastewater of at least 100 million people ends up untreated in the living environment.

Recognition of the magnitude and urgency of these challenges, has led Indonesia to become in many ways a front runner in nation-wide urban sanitation in the developing world. Over the past years, the country has managed to put sanitation on the agenda of most of its local governments. At this moment, 446 districts and cities have completed city sanitation strategies and the national budget for sanitation has more than ten-folded over the past 10 years.

We support Indonesia’s efforts to address the wastewater challenge by strengthening the capacities of local governments to design and manage city-wide sanitation services that target the entire sanitation chain and are tailored for different urban areas. Our programme integrates insights in WASH governance, investment and finance, behavioural change communication, business models and management of sanitation services. We have piloted our sanitation approach in the province of Lampung, in the city of Kalianda. In close coordination with Kalianda’s city authorities, we conducted a Rapid Technical Assessment (RTA) to identify the number, type and accessibility of the septic tanks/cesspools in place. This information allowed the local government to estimate capital expenditures, operation and maintenance costs and to estimate a fee for the scheduled desludging service.

With support from the Dutch Water Authorities, an enabling policy environment and regulatory framework was put in place by the local government, in line with national government guidelines for wastewater management. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for emptying services were developed to ensure operational health and safety for operators. In addition, research was conducted in partnership with the University of Lampung to assess the potential of sludge re-use for non food crops. Furthermore, technical support was provided for the development of a customer database, and an information campaign was widely implemented to inform the city's population of the environmental health benefits of adequate wastewater management so as to encourage them to join the programme.

Scheduled desludging provides street by street septic tank and cesspool emptying services on a regular basis. Services are less expensive as programme efficiency and economies of scale decrease transportation and collection costs. Customers perceive that services are more affordable as they pay monthly instalments rather than lump sum payments. Furthermore, if planned accordingly, scheduled desludging programmes can be fully cost recovery. At the same time, scheduled services are not incompatible with on call services though the situations that require on call (normally toilets that got clogged/overflowing) are already environmental hazards that should be prevented as much as possible.

At this point, 55% of the targeted households in the pilot area have registered for scheduled desludging, which is being conducted under the supervision of the Cleaning Department, a local government agency. Next steps include scaling up the service to the entire city of Kalianda, for the benefit of its 120,000 inhabitants.