Saving water is not the solution


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 17 Aug 2003

JAKARTA: This year's dry season arrived earlier than predicted and could develop into a disaster if it becomes prolonged. It prompted the government to appeal to the public, particularly in the city, to avoid wasting water and to be prepared for sacrifices now that the country is feeling the full heat of the dry season. 

According to State Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim, the drought will adversely affect water supplies to farmers as well as tap-water customers, cause crop failures and increase the threat of forest fires. 

Besides trying to stop the watering of gardens and washing of cars, Jakarta had called on local governments to take emergency measures by providing water pumps for areas suffering serious water shortages. 

The central and local governments have allocated Rp1.7bil from the state and local budgets to provide water pumps.  

Special humanitarian funds will also be established to provide aid if people start to suffer from food shortages or other difficulties as a result of the drought. 

What surprises us is not that we are experiencing an abnormally dry season this year, but the fact that the government seems to have been taken by surprise and forced to take emergency measures. 

The whole world is facing an unprecedented water crisis. It is to bring home this grim fact that this year has aptly been named the UN International Year of Freshwater. 

To underline this year's theme, the UN declared Saturday, March 22, 2003, World Water Day, when decision-makers from around the world gathered in Kyoto, Japan, for the Third World Water Forum to ensure that it made a difference. 

This year's World Environment Day, which fell on Thursday, June 5, was themed “Water, two billion people are dying for it!” 

During the ceremony held to mark the day at National Monument (Monas) park, President Megawati Soekarnoputri acknowledged the widespread problems of water scarcity and poor access to safe drinking water facing the nation. 

More than 1.2 billion people on this planet lack access to safe and clean water. Between five million and seven million die every year from water-related diseases, including 2.2 million children under the age of five.  

These numbers can only increase, as the global population is expected to rise dramatically during the first half of the 21st century. 

Experts say that 20% of the world's population living in 30 countries faced water shortages in 2000. That figure will rise to 30% of the world's population in 50 countries by 2025. 

These statistics describe only part of the global water crisis. Water is essential to food production and agriculture, which sustain human beings on this earth.  

There are currently 815 million undernourished people in the world, and as the global population grows, the UN says the world faces a disaster. 

The statistics on Indonesia are no better. At least 80% of Indonesia's population of 215 million has no access to running water that is clean and safe to drink, dry season or not. 

Rice production is under threat due to the loss of 15,000 hectares to 20,000 hectares of irrigated rice fields every year to non-agricultural uses.  

Some 600 of a total 5,590 rivers are deemed a significant flood hazard and pose a continuous threat to 1.4 million hectares of residential, industrial and agricultural land. 

Ironically, this country, at least according to the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, has about 6% of the world's freshwater reserves, or about 21% of Asia-Pacific's reserves.  

According to a UN report released last March, Indonesia has an abundant amount of freshwater, standing at 13,381 cubic metres per capita per year.  

Compare that figure with Singapore's, with only 149 cubic metres of freshwater per capita per year, yet still able to provide potable water to all of its citizens. 

Nabiel, a couple of months ago, rightly blamed widespread illegal logging, unrestrained land conversion and pollution for this country's water crisis. But, so far, his appeals and statements seem to have fallen on deaf ears. 

Yes, watering of gardens and car washing during the dry season should be eliminated.  

The cause of Indonesia's water crisis, however, will not be eliminated by banning such wasteful practices. Saving water per se is not the solution. 

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