Mon, 24 Mar 2003

Diarrhea to affect 6 million people this year

Moch. N. Kurniawan The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Up to 6.2 million people out of the total Indonesian population of 215 million will suffer diarrhea this year, mainly due to poor access to clean water, a senior government official says.

"Diarrhea is the worst water-borne disease that hits Indonesians, followed by typhoid and other water-borne illnesses," Ministry of Health water and sanitation director Hening Darpito told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said the rate of diarrhea infection now stood at between 25 and 29 people per 1,000 people per year.

"It is very high ... in previous years the rate was 10 out of every 1,000 people per year," he said.

Hening said diarrhea was common because most Indonesians had limited access to clean water and poor sanitation habits, particularly when it came to drinking and eating.

"There are families with no access to safe water and no lavatories, who eat without washing their hands and there are mothers who feed their babies without cleaning their hands," he said.

The social and economic costs to the country from the disease were high as many people had to be treated at health clinics or hospitals, while family productivity and welfare declined, he said.

He did not provide data on the prevalence of typhoid and other water-borne diseases.

The country report for the World Water Forum (WWF), now underway in Kyoto, Japan, said that at least 80 percent of Indonesians had no access to piped water.

The figure is shocking as according to the United Nations' latest report ahead of the WWF, each Indonesian should be able to access more than 13,000 cubic meters of water per year.

The government said in its report that the country needed Rp 5.1 trillion (US$579 million) per year till 2015 to increase clean water supplies to 40 percent of the country's total population.

Hening said the government still relied on loans and grants from developed countries to help build water and sanitation infrastructure to eradicate diseases.

"But it is part of the global commitment that developed countries must help ... poor countries increase their people's access to clean water."

For instance, he said, the government and the World Bank water and sanitation projects in various locations in Central Java, North Sulawesi and South Sulawesi during the past few years could help reduce the prevalence of diarrhea by up to 65 percent.

He said the National Development Planning Agency was still coordinating with other ministries to develop a national agenda to meet various global commitments, including eradicating poverty and improving access to clean water.

The House of Representatives and the government are currently deliberating the bill on water resources as part of water policy reform, according to the government.

But non-governmental organizations and farmers organizations have opposed the bill, saying the privatization aspects contained in the bill will only benefit big business.