Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Water refill business to keep gushing

Leony Aurora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Several owners of water refill outlets in the city said on Thursday that business would still continue despite the Minister of Industry and Trade's recent ruling, which prohibits refill outlets from refilling branded bottles of drinking water.

"How will they (the ministry officials) monitor (the implementation)?" said Iwan, who sells water in Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta. "Are they going to come and stand at our shops the whole day?" he told The Jakarta Post.

Clean drinking water is difficult to obtain at an affordable price in Jakarta, so a lucrative business opportunity emerged as ground or tap water was found to be unfit to drink.

Water refill outlets have sprung up in every housing complex and neighborhood, providing a cheaper alternative to local brands at Rp 2,500 (29 U.S. cents) a gallon. The local brands cost Rp 8,000 to Rp 10,000 per gallon.

But the outlets are facing a new challenge with the ministerial decree that came into effect on Nov. 21, prompted by complaints from branded bottled water companies. Chapter VI of the decree states that branded bottles of water can only be refilled by the respective company.

The decree comes after a study by the Indonesian Communication Forum for Drinking Water Management (Forkami), which found that of the water samples taken from the 96 outlets surveyed, 19.79 percent was contaminated with coliform bacteria and 5.21 percent with ecoli bacteria, which causes diarrhea.

The water bottles that Iwan's customers brought for refills were mostly those of the most popular local brands.

Safri, a retired police officer who sells water in front of his house in Petamburan, West Jakarta, appeared relaxed about the new decree. "I'm still going to fill people's bottles, whether they bring plain or branded gallon bottles."

Iwan and his wife, Evy, claimed their outlet sold 80 gallons per day, bringing a net profit of Rp 3 million a month. They invested Rp 40 million to open the business in March.

They received water every four days from Cijeruk in Bogor district, West Java, delivered by an 8000-liter tanker truck, which they stored in two fiberglass containers.

The water is then filtered to remove any dirt that might have fallen in and passed through ultraviolet light to kill any bacteria before finally reaching the refilling taps.

The couple is sure that their sales won't drop. "Our water is good, and people need it as they can't drink ground water. We drink the water ourselves," Evy said.