Sun, 14 Sep 2003

Water resource management

We read with interest your front-page Sept. 10 article, entitled Water resource bill needs examining, in which the World Bank is credited with some of the content on the draft Water Law.

The draft law is a good one, but the credit must go to committed leaders in the government and to a long process of analysis and public consultation, rather than to foreign advisers.

Until recently, Indonesia has been losing the battle to provide clean water to its poorer citizens, reliable irrigation water to its farmers and protection to its vital watersheds.

Indeed, over 50 million of the population still has no access to clean water, and this year, as in many other years, millions more are affected by the effects of draught, in part because of poor water management. Thus, it is very good news that over the past three or four years, Indonesia has begun to move away from a top-down approach to water management and towards an approach that involves farmers in the management of local irrigation systems, and is encouraging governments and the private sector to work together to bring reliable drinking water to its urban citizens.

Under the new approach, River Basin Authorities are being established to manage water in a holistic manner, and traditional water use rights are to be given protection. The new approach treats water as having real value, and thus encourages it to be used prudently.

Your article refers to criticisms of the draft law, that the private sector would play too large a role in water management. Our understanding of the new approach is different. It will be groups of farmers who will have more authority to manage and maintain the systems that they use. True, these farmers are in the private sector, but a far cry from the multinationals that the critics imply are threatening to take over water resources.

At the same time, needs for investments in urban water supply are huge, and simply cannot be financed alone by central and local governments. Thus, the new approach, which encourages the private sector to finance, build and operate -- but not own -- municipal water systems, is vitally needed.

By adopting these new approaches, Indonesia is moving towards best practice in the management of water, and thus has a real chance to improve management of this precious resource, water, and in so doing improve the lives of millions of its citizens.

ANDREW STEER World Bank Country Director for Indonesia