by Meena Palaniappan, Program Director
Imagine if the water you were being supplied with regularly to your home suddenly began drying up? For hundreds of households dependent on community-run drinking water user associations (Indonesian, HIPPAM) in Malang, this is a new reality. As more and more water users directly access the resource, water availability is shifting, and the lack of a comprehensive water management strategy for the region has left many communities high and dry.
HIPPAMs are common throughout Malang, and supply about 20 percent of households in the city. These HIPPAMs began in response to the lack of municipally supplied water by the city’s water utility, PDAM Kota Malang. The water utility was not supplying water to these communities either because it was an outlying or difficult to reach area, or because the cost of water from PDAM Kota Malang was perceived to be too high.
The first and newest HIPPAM we visited was led by a charismatic leader who along with the locality leader advocated again and again through the local budgeting process to drill a bore well in the community that could supply water to the hundreds of households without access. Finally, after six years, the Public Works department approved the project and provided a loan and equipment to drill the bore well. The water from this bore well now supplies several hundred households in the community. The community was lucky to tap into a rich underground resource that required no pump to bring to the surface. They have an abundance of water supply, and no energy costs, and are in the enviable position of being able to provide water for free to members of the community who don’t have the ability to pay for water. This HIPPAM is kind of like the nouveau water riche.
Meanwhile in other parts of the city, other older HIPPAMs are struggling with providing water services. In the community of Wonokoyo, a 20-year-old HIPPAM has been seeing the drying up of their four water sources. Residents complain of not enough water to meet basic needs for sanitation. The community has requested that PDAM Kota Malang begin providing water services here, and are still awaiting this service. In another 20-year –old HIPPAM, the water managers have received external funds to increase their pumping of the groundwater that they rely on. When they reached a water crisis of not enough water nearly a decade ago, they received funds from an external donor to buy a new machine to increase water withdrawals from deep underground. Another HIPPAM has struggled since its inception with finding an adequate water source, and constantly having its water source dry up. People in this community complain bitterly about the lack of reliable water from the HIPPAM.
One of the things that struck me about the struggles of these HIPPAMs was the way in which there was very little attention to protecting the sustainability of the supply of water. Once a bore well was drilled, it was pumped until dry. Paying attention to the sustainability of supply would have meant a better assessment of the natural recharge rate of the aquifer on which the community depended, developing a system to percolate water into the ground to recharge the aquifer, and ensuring that water extraction was sustainable over the long term.
To me, the story of HIPPAMs in Malang also perfectly outlined the issue of Peak Water. Peter Gleick and I have written about the issue of Peak Water, and how despite its weaknesses as a theoretical construct it sends some important signals in the water sector. As I’ve always said, the concept of Peak Water reminds us that the age of cheap, easy-to-access water is over (similar to what Peak Oil has meant for oil). This means that to get the same water we’ve always depended on we will need to go further (more distant water sources), and pay more (stronger and more expensive pumps) to get the same water.
What further complicates this Peak Water story is the way in which this is a cascading Peak Water effect, with each water user (HIPPAMs and PDAM Kota Malang and households) directly accessing and draining the water supply, which in turn affects the water available to other water users. This makes planning for water supply more difficult as the water used by each water user affects the amount that remains for others. Malang has a particularly interesting situation in that significant water suppliers in the city are the numerous community water associations. HIPPAMs along with PDAM Kota Malang all depend upon what is fundamentally the same resource, yet have no information about the state of the water source, or how much the other user is using.
One of the goals of the Indonesia WATER SMS System will be to make visible these invisible linkages and connections in the water system so that there is more knowledge on the state of urban water resources: how much water there is, who is using it and how much, and what the quality is. WATER SMS will create information in a zero information urban water environment. The ultimate goal of this information shared among multiple sources will be to assist all of these water managers in better planning in the face of increasing water insecurity.