How We Take Water For Granted
Fidelis E Satriastanti
I have been living in Jakarta almost all of my life, and have dealt with its endemic problems: Traffic jams, security issues, lack of adequate public transportation and widespread pollution, just to name a few. But Jakartans have taken two other serious issues for granted: Water .
How is that possible? Perhaps the logic follows the severity and publicity of the issues. You are likely angered when your stuck in gridlock for hours, but you don’t panic. But you panic when the lights go off and the water stops running, even if it’s just for an hour or two.
Many years ago I experienced my first water crisis when the supply was reduced to a dribble. Eventually it just stopped for a few days, and I witnessed how people could be so savage just to get their daily supply. I live in a low-cost apartment building located in a densely populated area where there are private vendors selling water door-to-door. The sellers use carts filled with at least 12 buckets of water. Residents who have no access to ground water buy from said vendors for daily activities. And when the water supply was scarce, women (especially mothers), were ambushing the vendors to buy clean water.
Meanwhile, the men who got frustrated — led by heads of neighborhoods (Pak RT) — finally broke in to the water installation, which was a huge pipe surrounded by steel fence. And during that time, I did do my fair share queuing for water, but that was the worst incident that happened in my neighborhood.
In the days following the crisis, the water in my area has been limited. Without announcement, the water has stopped running during certain hours, especially from the so-called idle hours of 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. until dawn. The neighbors and I adapted to the situation by finishing our chores at home before noon and storing as much water as we could for the night. While the cost is low, living in a low-rent apartment building has its own disadvantages, such as a lack of a backyard to plant trees and to restore ground water.
From personal experience, I have come to the realization that most of us take water for granted. You don’t realize what you have until it’s taken away.
In commemorating world water day last week, Unicef and the World Health Organization announced that the millennium development goal on access to drinking water has been met ahead of time. A report issued by the two organizations found that between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water. While encouraging, the figures are not yet cause for celebration. There are still 783 million people (or 11 percent of the global population) who still have no access to safe drinking water.
In a news article I read, Firdaus Ali, chair of the Indonesia Water Institute , said that water availability for Jakartans only covers around 2.2 percent of water demands. Jakarta will experience a water deficit of 23,729 liter per second by 2025.
Reactions from figures varied. Some might say the numbers are exaggerated. Some might suggest planting trees. Some might seek help from the government. Some might just turn the page to find other news.
Scientifically speaking, water is a renewable source. Basic science also tells you that water can be absorbed and stored by trees . Thus, renewing the water supply is entirely possible.
But realistically speaking, this is not possible in Jakarta, which does not have that many trees, let alone a forest (there is a small mangrove forest in the city but it’s less than 100 hectares). Reality check: The Ciliwung River, the source for drinking water for many Jakartans, only covers two percent for green space areas. The rest is for settlements. But the reality is, we do have water: Floods. It runs above the ground and is not stored.
I don’t mind people pushing through the government’s roles for clean water access, criticizing the privatization of water companies or obsessing over planting as many trees as possible in the river basin. These are all well intentioned actions.
You can browse the Web for tips on how to save water — there is an abundance of advice there. With the scheduled water flow in my apartment building, I’m fortunate because I now know how to curb my own use of water. If you want to respect water in the simplest ways ladies, please, turn off the tap while powdering your nose or combing your hair. Gentlemen, I know you love your ride, but try to use buckets rather than hoses when washing your car.