During World Water Day on Thursday, several Jakartans went to City Hall and took a shower there. They were protesting against water privatization in Jakarta, which they said had failed to improve public access to water. They demanded that water management be returned to the public, as part of a global trend called "remunicipalization".
A 2015 report by global NGOs, including the Transnational Institute, recorded that in 2000, there were two cases of remunicipalization affecting less than one million people. But in 2015, the number reached 235 cases, affecting over 100 million people. Most of the cases — 184 — occurred in rich countries.
The protesters also expressed disappointment over the contract restructuring between city-owned PT PAM Jaya and two private operators — PT PAM Lyonnaise Jaya and PT Aetra Air Jakarta. They said the municipality should have taken over the water management, in compliance with an earlier Supreme Court order.
Mounting evidence shows less public participation in clean water management in Jakarta has led to high water rates and poor performance. Jakarta and two private water operators entered a contract almost 20 years ago, but their performance is consistently lower than that of other cities.
Data compiled by the Amrta Institute for Water Literacy showed in 2012, the average water rate in Jakarta — Rp 7,020 (49 US cents) — was higher than in Surabaya (Rp 2,600), Medan (Rp 2,294), Semarang (Rp 2,600) and Makassar (Rp 2,000). Thus, Jakarta's tap water coverage, at 59 percent, was lower than Surabaya's 87 percent and Medan's 66.6 percent.
Meanwhile, Jakarta's water leakage level at 44 percent was higher than Surabaya's 34 percent and Medan's 24 percent. Surabaya has a public tap water management system, while others have a limited cooperation with private companies.
Jakarta's contract with the water companies expires in 2023, but the capital still has a long way to go to achieve universal water access and many still rely on groundwater. Jakarta's water pipes chronically reach around 60 percent of households which supply only around 35 percent of Jakarta's clean water demand. The rest comes from groundwater, bottled water and other sources, such as a costly independent reverse osmosis facility.
While the poor mostly lack easy access to tap water, many rich households and commercial facilities also rely on groundwater extraction, which is blamed for land sinking in Jakarta.
Instead of confusing the public with legal technicalities of contract restructuring, Jakarta should just return water management to the public. Like Paris, it should form a Water Observatory, a space where citizens can ensure that the water company is publicly held accountable.
While Governor Anies Baswedan has called on Jakartans to stop using groundwater, he must ensure more investment from the private operators' profits — not from public money — is made to improve water services.
It is now up to the city administration to make clean water available and affordable to all.