Water vendors fill the blue plastic jerry cans with tap water from city company pipes in a neighborhood just outside of Muara Angke passenger port, in the coastal municipality of North Jakarta on Aug. 6 . Each can contains up to 20 liters of water to be sold for at least Rp 5,000 (US$ 0.34).(JP/A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil)

Jakarta struggles as climate change disrupts water balance

Jakartans — especially those living in areas unreached by the city’s pipe network — are still struggling to access clean potable water as scientists predict that climate change will disrupt water balance and a harsher El Niño can potentially spell problems for the Jakarta water resources.

With Jakarta’s pipe network managed by the city-owned PAM Jaya only covering 64 percent of the city, several areas have to contend with using groundwater and even buy water delivered in blue plastic barrels.

Muhadi, 43, the head of neighborhood unit (RT) 10 in Pluit, Penjaringan, North Jakarta near the Muara Angke Passenger Port, is among those whose area has not been reached by piping access from PAM Jaya.

For his household, Muhadi relies on groundwater pumped from a nearby well, occasionally buying blue plastic jerry cans of water from wandering carts. Every day, he has to buy around five to six 20-liter cans of water, priced at minimum Rp 5,000 (US$0.34) each.

Muhadi said that some households would need as many as 15 cans if they are a large household or if they run a small business like a warteg (rice and side dishes stall).

“Some people also dig shallow wells, but the water is often dirty,” Muhadi said early this month.

Several houses in Muara Angke have wells less than two meters deep. Because the neighborhood is near the coast and does not have a proper sewage system, wastewater often seeps into the ground and back into the wells.

Muhadi said that water from these shallow wells is only good for washing.

He added that water is usually available all year round, with scarcity usually happening around the fasting month of Ramadhan and Idul Fitri, which falls between June and September in the 2010s and between April and July in early 2020s, as lots of water was used to prepare for the festivities.

“If there is piped water here, it would make our life easier,” Muhadi said.

He said that the residents had asked the city water company to install pipes, but were told that installing pipes there was not possible due to the unclear legal status of the houses in Muara Angke.

Climate vulnerability

Jakarta’s supply water even for those with pipes could be vulnerable to climate change, especially during the El Niño period.

The National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) professor of meteorology and climatology Edvin Aldrian said that Jakarta and its surrounding areas naturally have access to water because of relatively short rivers running from the mountains to the relatively flat coast.

He said that based on geography alone, Jakarta has an abundance of water and might not suffer from a long-term water crisis.

“The problem related to water here is seasonal. Our concern is mainly the dry season which, if prolonged, could cause water shortages,” Edvin said on Aug. 2.

He said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports had indicated that the climate in the future would be more El Niño-like due to global warming, while El Niño events will also increase in intensity and frequency.

However, he pointed out that El Niño doesn’t usually last until December, and even a relatively short rainy season should be enough to replenish the north coast of Java near Jakarta. 

Java island would experience a worsening water deficit until 2070 according to a research by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) – the precursor institute of BRIN – a geotechnology center based on modeling using the MAGICC/SCENGEN regional climate scenario generator in 2005 and in 2018 on the impact of climate change on water balance.

Meanwhile, a study by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) in 2019 predicted that, by 2045 about 9.6 percent of the Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara regions would experience a water crisis, an increase from 6 percent in 2000.

Complex problem

Firdaus Ali, hydrologist and founder of Indonesia Water Institute, said that Jakarta already had a myriad of problems that affect clean water access, and climate change would also exacerbate such problems.

He said that pipe water leakage in the existing supply system is at 46 percent, when ideally it should be less than 25 percent.

Actual service coverage by PAM Jaya might actually be less than 64 percent of piping coverage as the latter only counted official residents of Jakarta while discounting impacts of leakages and disturbances in the piping system.

“Before we even talk about climate change, Jakarta is already struggling to provide clean water,” Firdaus said.

He stressed that the problem of water sourcing is also crucial because even though there are 13 rivers running through the city, they cannot be used as sources of potable water due to pollution.

Instead, Jakarta relies on sources outside the city such as Jatiluhur Dam in West Java, where Jakarta gets 81 percent of its piped water.

PAM Jaya has aimed for Jakarta to provide a 100 percent coverage of the drinking water system by 2030, as quoted by Antara. 

The water company President Director Arief Nasrudin said it is important to do so because continued extraction of water could worsen Jakarta’s environmental problems, such as land subsidence.

The capital’s effort to increase piping coverage also comes as its 25-year contract with private water companies Aetra and Palyja are due to expire by next year.

In late July, PAM Jaya Service Director Syahrul Hasan said that the company was committed to ending water privatization in the city, with the transition period starting from August 2022 until January 31, 2023.

This report is part of our Climate and Water Nexus Fellowship, in partnership with Earth Journalism Network.