Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Akbar advises promotion of water resources bill

Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

House of Representatives' Speaker Akbar Tandjung defended on Friday the water resources bill despite protests from some quarters, and asked lawmakers to inform the public about the contents of the bill before approving it.

He said the bill was needed to improve the well-being of the public.

The bill, he said, was in line with a decree issued by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) in 2001 on agrarian reform and natural resources conservation.

"Water has become a serious problem. If it remains unmanaged, we may well face a water scarcity some day," Akbar told a plenary session which marked the closing of the House's 45-day session.

Akbar called on lawmakers to focus on water as a basic human need, which had to be accessible to the public.

He warned legislators against encouraging the overexploitation or privatization of water.

In response to public outcry over the deliberation of the water resources draft bill, State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim has promised to bring their complaints to the House.

"We will recommend that the House listen to the public," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in his office.

He praised the public for voicing their objections to the bill's deliberation, but stopped short of saying whether his office had any objections to the bill.

The bill is widely protested for what opponents and critics say its failure to address the interest of the common people.

The deliberation of the bill, which was initially expected to be completed this week, has been postponed following public protests.

The House went into recess on Friday and will resume its session on Oct. 24.

The bill is expected to be passed into law by the end of the year.

Many have said the bill was drafted with the sole purpose of commercializing water, as the bill considers water a commodity. For example, an article in the bill stipulates that a province may export water with approval from the central government.

Early this year, the Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure announced its plan to export water from Riau to neighboring Singapore.

Critics also say the bill has failed to address issues on water resources conservation.

Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno had said earlier that conservation issues would be addressed in other laws, prompting critics to charge that the ministry only wanted to exploit water, but placed the burden of conservation on other ministries, such as the environment ministry and forestry ministry.

Nabiel pointed out that water was a critical issue, as people could not predict the state of future water supplies.

"We don't know about the future quantity nor quality of water supplies, they depend on the quality of the environment," he said, adding that illegal logging remained a major problem in the country's efforts to protect its environment and thus, its water resources.

The ministry has announced that Java, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara have suffered the most from water shortages this year. Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua still have vast water supplies of 453.6 billion cubic meters, against 23.7 billion cubic meters of demand.

However, recent data from the environment ministry indicated that water demand in those provinces will increase to 26.8 billion cubic meters by 2020, while supplies will decline due to unchecked deforestation.

Data from the forestry ministry this year revealed that some 43 of 120.35 million hectares of forests have been devastated by illicit activities, with a degradation rate of 2.1 million hectares per year.

The affected forests are mainly located in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi and Papua.

State Minister Research and Technology M. Hatta Radjasa has also voiced his objection to an article in the bill, which stipulates that the private sector may modify the weather through cloud seeding.

"It might potentially create regional conflicts," he said.