Monday, July 11, 2005

Poor people pay more for water

Source: The Jakarta Post

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lacking access to clean water in his neighborhood in Rawabuaya subdistrict, West Jakarta, Sunyoto, 45, has to spend up to 10 percent of his monthly income just to buy water from street vendors.

Like most of his neighbors, he buys a 20-liter jerry can of clean water from the vendor every day, which costs him Rp 1,000. The family use the water only for drinking and cooking.

"We have a well in our rented house, but the color of the water is yellowish. Although the water ruins our clothes, we have no choice but to use it for washing. Otherwise, most of our spending would be for water," the father of two said.

His monthly income is about Rp 500,000 (US$51.30), of which Rp 150,000 must be used for house rent. Luckily, both of his children are still under five and don't have to go to school.

The water vendors sell piped water supplied by PT Pam Lyonaisse Jaya (Palyja), the foreign partner of city owned water operator PT Pam Jaya which serves western part of the city.

Although the street vendors had yet to raise their price following the water tariff increase in early July, Sunyoto said he has no other choice but to spend more for water.

"Clean water is vital for my family," he said.

Currently, water supplied by PT Palyja and PT Thames Pam Jaya (TPJ), another foreign water operator serving the eastern part of the city, could only cover around 50 percent of clean water demands in the city.

Despite the poor service, water tariffs will keep on increasing every six months from 2005 until 2007, as part of efforts to pay off Pam Jaya's debts to the foreign partners.

The latest increase, effective on July 1, ranges from 5 percent for industrial, commercial premises and high-income area houses, up to 63 percent for low-income areas.

Previously, poor customers paid Rp 550 per cubic meter of water (one cubic meter is equal to 1,000 liters). Now they have to pay Rp 900 per cubic meter.

Although the hike led to public protests for putting heavier burdens on the poor, what they have to pay was still much cheaper than what Sunyoto's has to spend on water.

Sunyoto's neighbor Karno, 50, said he could get the same amount of clean water cheaper because he had the time and a cart to carry water cans home.

"The water operator sells water for only Rp 500 per 20 liters," he said.

Meanwhile, Mahdi, 50, a resident of Semanan subdistrict, also in West Jakarta, said that his family used underground water for all necessities. According to him, the water is of better quality compared to the underground water of his neighbors.

He feels safe consuming underground water although according to data from the City Health Agency, 90 percent of underground water in the city is contaminated by E. coli bacteria, a common cause of diarrheal diseases.

"Of course the water must be boiled before we drink it. It's much better than the pricey tap water which has been mixed with chemical substances," he added.