UNICEF Brings Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to Indonesia’s Slums

More than fifty percent of Indonesians live in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to 60 percent by 2015. The swift increase in urban migration and urbanization has outpaced the expansion of water and sanitation facilities; many households that draw water from a pump, well or spring are doing so within 10 meters of a septic tank or toilet discharge. Diarrhea is still a major cause of death amongst Indonesian children under the age of five years. Compared to children from households using piped water, diarrhea rates are 34 per cent higher among young children from households using an open well for drinking water.

UNICEF’s WASH program is pioneering much-needed improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene in urban areas in the country. For Indonesia’s urban slum dwellers, access to potable water is particularly problematic. As WASH Specialist Claire Quillet points out, some slum dwellers in Indonesia are just above the poverty line; they may work in Jakarta and take home a decent salary. But, instead of paying high city rents, they save their wages and send money back home to their village-dwelling families.

While slum dwellers avoid high city rents, though, they fall victim to the other costs of living in slums. Without access to safe water sources, they are forced to buy water at vastly inflated prices from water vendors, who, says Quillet, overcharge for their services.

“The water vendors sell the water at a much higher price than the price in Jakarta” she said. “They do their business because they know the water company cannot legally put their pipes there. People have no choice.”

Quillet said that WASH has been helping communities and working with water companies to find a solution:

“Because the slum settlements are mainly illegal, the water company cannot provide water to these people. So we developed a specific way [to help]. The water company will pipe water up to the border and the community will provide and connect the remaining pipe to their households, creating the pipe network for household water supply. The water company cannot do it at a household level and provide a tap in each house.”

Since 2007, UNICEF, along with Mercy Corps, Care International and government officials, as part of the Water, Environment and Sanitation program, have been working with five cities in eastern Indonesia, all of which have dense slum populations: Ambon, Makassar, Jayapura, Kupang, and Mataram. As well as this urban component, it also works in rural areas and schools.

According to the assessment report on the project, it was a success and made a significant contribution to the hygiene practices in the targeted communities in five cities in eastern Indonesia. For example, a total of 175,275 urban slum inhabitants benefited having access to sanitary toilets and have adopted proper hand washing techniques using water and soap. A total of 19,635 (98 per cent of the target figure of 20,000) persons from 3,927 households in urban slums gained access to safe drinking water. Advances were also made in solid waste management and garbage disposal.

The successful model established in urban areas by WASH was used to develop the “Green and Clean Slums Project” funded by USAID that was implemented by UNICEF in the cities of Makassar, Kupang and Jayapura. The programme, which ended recently, focused on improving water and sanitation by building the capacity of water utilities and city water and sanitation working groups, providing community and school facilities, and improving solid waste management.

By helping the community build latrines where they are most needed, promoting hygiene behaviour change, and improving the environmental conditions of the slums through the provision of solid waste management, “Green and Clean Slums” was a way for local government, local water companies and slum communities to work together; it is also a truly noteworthy example of the innovative work that UNICEF is implementing to help Indonesia’s urban poor.