Got Water?

Indonesia continues to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but it is also at risk of stretching its natural resources thin. One resource in particular – water – is still being taken for granted, with the country being notorious for ranking among the worst in Asia in regards to sewerage and sanitation coverage. The current administration realizes this and is determined to address the issue. The private sector has a significant role to play.

A big change is happening in Citarum River in West Java. Where once flowed tons and tons of waste, from plastic bottles to animal carcasses, the stream has been seen relatively clear of human filth, as evidenced in this video.


As stated in the video, Citarum is the lifeblood of some 35 million people living in West Java and Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta. Ironically, it is also among the world’s 10 most polluted sites in the world, according to the Blacksmith Institute, with The World Bank deeming Citarum as the world’s most polluted river. The work that was taken to change the river into what can be seen in the video could not have been a small feat.

That change is the result of a project jumpstarted by the Indonesian government on February 2018. The project, dubbed Citarum Harum (harum being the indonesian word for fragrant), is a seven-year plan to clean up the river. It actively employs the nation’s army in installing nets to capture waste upstream, in-between, and downstream to later be collected and disposed of properly, while at the same time educating the locals on their role in keeping the river clean. The army is also acting as law enforcers against any found to be breaking waste management laws, especially against companies that operate on the river’s banks. Dozens of companies have reportedly been reprimanded and even shut down for breaking waste management laws. As much as Rp 600 billion (roughly more than US$42.2 million) has been set aside this year to fund the effort, which includes putting the proper waste management infrastructure in place.

All that said, the Citarum Harum project, while relatively massive in scale, is but a ripple in the ocean when compared with how enormous the task would be when considering the size of the issue. Indonesia’s water resources accounts for 6% of the world’s and 21% of Asia-Pacific’s. And yet 68% of rivers in Indonesia are heavily polluted. Of those, 70% are polluted by domestic waste, according to the Indonesian National Planning Agency. Rivers contaminated by domestic waste raise the cost of clean water since it will require more processing effort. The World Bank estimates that the degree of the pollution has raised the cost of water treatment alone by up to 25%, incurring the country a loss of Rp 56 trillion or $4.2 billion each year.

Water for granted

Indonesia’s main issue in regards to its water is neglect. Economic growth models in the first few decades following the country’s independence have mainly focused on exports of raw materials, followed by domestic consumption. And while economic growth based on these two factors have been successful, it has also been proven unsustainable. Domestic consumption, for example, drives the textile industry, which, over the years, has grown alongside the banks of Citarum River. Out of some 750 companies that operate on the banks of Citarum River, 72% are textile companies, according to data from the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing. Last year, 41 textile companies went under investigation for polluting the river. They are among the dozens of companies that were reprimanded or shut down during the course of the Citarum Harum project.

Rapid economic growth has also fueled urbanization, which puts pressure on the government in providing good management of sanitation facilities. Due to the dense nature of urban areas, most urban families in Indonesia require septic tanks to be located under or near their homes. These septic tanks are badly managed, with leaks found to be common. The problem is so severe that stunting among children – a debilitating condition in which poor sanitation is widely recognized as a major contributing cause – is widespread, with around nine million, or 30% of Indonesian children under the age of 5 being affected by the condition, further leading Indonesian President Joko Widodo to declare it a national priority for the country to combat stunting.

Access to sanitation facilities in Indonesia has actually improved with 76% of the urban population having proper toilets, according the World Bank, but the crux of the problem, i.e. providing proper waste management infrastructure, continues to be challenge. Only 13 major urban cities in Indonesia are equipped with a centralized water management system, and among all these cities, the systems generally cover a total of less than 5% of the area.

CityUnitsSystemTotal Capacity (m3/day)
Medan1UASB (Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket) 10,000
Parapat1Aerated Lagoon2,000
Jakarta1MBBR (Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor)38,800
Bandung1Anaerobic, Facultative & Maturation Pond80,835
Cirebon4Anaerobic, Facultative & Maturation Pond20,500
Yogyakarta1Aerated Lagoon15,500
Surakarta3Biofilters and Lagoons14,000
Balikpapan1Extended Aerated Lagoons800
Banjarmasin7RBC (Rotating Biological Contactor)18,000
Batam1Oxidation Ditch2,852
Tangerang1Aerated Lagoon2,800
Bali1Aerated Lagoon51,000

*Source: Indonesia Water Assocation

National, Personal Priority

There is still a lack of a nationally coordinated movement to improve waste management due to limited budget and competing sectors such as healthcare and education. But there are movements nevertheless as evidenced in the Citarum Harum project. While more than 90% of Indonesian households still rely on on-site sanitation, since 2013, the government has shifted its strategy from constructing treatement facilties to a comprehensive management that encompasses a whole range of waste management practices, from emptying septic tanks, septage treatment and recycling treated sludge, to upgrading to on-site systems from leaking pits to standard septic tanks.

Combined effort between the local goverment and a number of local donors, such as the World Bank, are making headway in improving the processing of fecal sludge. New technology, such as an app to help services to empty septic tanks, have also been launched, symbolizing Indonesia’s readiness to adopt the latest technologies in improving its waste management system.

From the private sector, Indonesia-based water treatment firm Moya Holdings Asia, through its subsidiary PT Aetra Air Jakarta, together with partner PT Medco Gas Indonesia, has been awarded the tender for a water supply system in Semarang in Central Java, by the city's municipal water company, as reported by The Straits Times.

The build-operate-transfer project has a 25-year concession period, beginning from the date of commercial operation. Its scope covers the design, financing, building, operation, maintenance and transfer of the water supply system, consisting of a new water treatment facility, a transmission pipeline, one main reservoir and two distribution reservoirs.

Indonesia-based Adaro Energy has also been actively involved in water treatment and has purchased two water processing plants in Indonesia for Ro 150 million (around $11.3 million) in Gresik, in East Java, and Banjarbaru in South Kalimantan. Furthermore, Adaro Energy has stated that it plans to join the government’s water treatment national strategic projects in the water treatment sector, aiming to produce 4,000 liter of clean water per second.

The water treatment industry in Indonesia was stunted during the first few decades of country’s rapid economic growth, but the Indonesian government and its people are waking up to the urgency of having a proper waste management system. For German companies looking to enter the market, a successful penetration could promise a long-lasting symbiotic relationship that benefits all stakeholders.