Source: Mongabay
Date: May 1, 2021

  • Many parts of Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province have experienced a shortage of clean water shortage since last year.
  • Environmental activists attribute the problem to environmental degradation in forested water catchment areas, including by mining companies.
  • Women and children in several areas have to walk up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) to get water from privately run tanker trucks.
  • Even in the provincial capital, Kupang, 36% of households reportedly lack access to clean water.

KUPANG, Indonesia — In Indonesia's arid, southern East Nusa Tenggara province, clean water is hard to come by.

The issue made national headlines last year when an "extreme drought" triggered clean water shortages in different parts of the archipelagic province, from Rote in the south to Flores in the north.

The problem affects both rural and urban areas, from the provincial capital Kupang, one of the biggest cities in Indonesia's less-developed eastern region, to the small, savanna-laden island of Solor, where local women walk barefoot over rocky hills to fill up buckets and jerrycans at brackish wells.

"Most parts of East Nusa Tenggara are experiencing the same thing, namely a water crisis," Umbu Tamu Ridi Djawamara, the head of the legal department at the local chapter of Walhi, Indonesia's biggest environmental NGO, told Mongabay.

He attributes the province's water troubles to environmental damage in water catchment areas, including from mining activity.

Dozens of mining permits overlap with protected forest areas; there are 72 mining permits in Belu and North Central Timor districts alone, according to Umbu.

Thirty percent of the province's largest watershed, that of the Benanain River on the island of Timor, has been handed out to mining companies, he added.

Upstream of the river mouth, in South Central Timor district, women and children must often travel up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) to buy clean water from privately run tanker trucks, according to Dewa Ayu Putu Eva Wishanti, a lecturer at Indonesia's Brawijaya University who conducted fieldwork in the area in 2017.

Sometimes, she said, the tanker trucks don't have enough water for locals.

"This condition is very common there and contrasts with [government] data which says that in 2019, 75% of East Nusa Tenggara residents had access to sustainable water sources," she wrote in The Conversation.

Women from Balawelin village on the island of Solor carry water from a well near the coast. Image by Ebed de Rosary/Mongabay.

Umbu called on local authorities to audit mining companies and carry out studies of water catchment areas and devise policies to protect them.

"Farmers are particularly affected because they rely on availability of water to carry out their activities," he said.

In 2017, 48 of 51 subdistricts in the capital Kupang suffered from major water shortages, according to Eva, forcing the government to supply residents with water tanks. The piped water supply often runs dry in the dry season, she said, undermining sanitation efforts.

Residents of the province spend an average of 300,000-400,000 rupiah ($21-$28) per month on clean water, Eva said. The provincial minimum wage is 1.95 million rupiah ($135).

In Kupang, 36% of households lack access to clean water, according to Erik Pratama from Friends of Nature NTT, a local organization.

The city's water authority "has not been able to answer the community's need for clean water at all," he said.