Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Water privatization to result in major natural disaster, Walhi warns

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has said that people would have difficulty in obtaining water if the government went ahead with its plan to privatize the natural resource.

It said water shortages might become a major disaster this year as droughts, floods, forest fires and landslides are expected to continue.

Walhi's executive director Longgena Ginting said that once water supplies were privatized, not only would people living in cities pay fees for it, but so would farmers in rural areas, "because the planned privatization is feared to take the side of corporations rather than that of the people".

The government has submitted to the House of Representatives a bill on water, which allows local administrations to privatize water supplies and allow private foreign and domestic investors to enter the market.

Ginting said Walhi and other pro-environment non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had joined forces to oppose the bill, which would deny people's access to water.

House Deputy Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar of the National Awakening Party also said he also shared a similar concern and fear, adding that water supplies would be controlled by the private sector.

He regretted that water sources in mountainous resorts, especially in Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, were controlled by private companies for business, while domestic and foreign investors have interfered with the supply of water to people in urban areas.

The government policy on water privatization has sparked protests and criticism as it denies people's access to water, and it has not improved the government-owned tap water companies' service to their consumers, he said.

Ginting said that the government had also submitted other bills that give more chances for the private sector to control natural resources, including water, oil and plantations.

He called on the House to be extremely cautious when deliberating the bills since it would be difficult to annul them once they were endorsed.

"The government should supervise private companies when managing water supplies to preserve the environment and avoid natural disasters," he said.