Jakarta. While Lombok is surrounded by the shimmering cobalt-blue water usually seen on postcards, getting a glass of the stuff that is safe to drink isn’t easy for many of the island’s residents.
“We have to buy water. We need about 50 liters a day, and that means Rp 6,000 [65 cents] leaves our pockets, or about what we pay for a kilogram of rice,” Inaq Sahati said.
And that is bad news for the 45-year-old fisherman, who is already struggling to eke out a living in the drought-hit village of Bilelando in Central Lombok.
Inaq’s and the other 117 families in the village share the same problem: clean water is extremely scarce, and has been for more than 30 years.
When money is short, which is often, the residents of Bilelando go without by substituting clean water for brackish irrigation water for bathing.
It is either that or send one of the women or children to Bebao, a neighboring village some five kilometers away, on a multihour mission to fetch a single pail of water.
Despite the ever-present threat of disease and the losses in productivity, residents say that their pleas to the local administration for a reservoir or a water tank have been ignored for decades.
It is the same story in Nieleando, a small coastal village about 50 kilometers from the provincial capital, Mataram, which has seen dry wells for years.
Every so often, the local government does send out a few water trucks, but that effort leads to the type of melees usually found in disaster-hit areas.
Conflicts are quick to erupt between villagers and the workers from the provincial disaster mitigation task force who are charged with distributing the water.
“We are used to fighting over water. It is far more acceptable if rice is stolen from us than water,” said one resident as she jostled with other villagers to stay at the front of the line.
Abdullah, who is the head of the village’s Kelongkong hamlet, said that despite government promises to send the trucks twice a week, only two deliveries were made to the village this year.
According to data from the district’s social welfare office, water shortages are at the top of a long list of mounting social woes facing Central Lombok.
But nowhere is it more pronounced than the subdistricts of Jonggat, Janapria, Praya Timur, Praya Barat, Praya Barat Daya and Pujut. All six subdistricts have been declared drought areas by provincial authorities.
“Besides the absence of rain for the past six months, because of the geographical conditions and the way the settlements are spread out on the coast, it makes accessibility difficult, further aggravating the water crisis,” said Muhammad Rusli, who heads the district’s social welfare office.
Rusli said his office had deployed four trucks to two hamlets on Wednesday, but doubted whether it would do much good.
“If this goes on, disorder may creep in. A reservoir should be built,” he said.