In search of a new insight

Development Policy15 Feb 2013Riant Nugroho

The challenge for future water governance is how to develop a policy on water that integrates different water resource allocations and that is  based on the inclusion of people and society.

The challenge for future water governance is how to develop a policy on water which integrates water resource allocation among agriculture, industry, domestic consumption, and social services. Indonesia, as a developing country, is facing these difficulties as it has been transformed from a rural-based to an urban-based country. In 1970, about 70% of the people lived in rural areas, and most of them worked as farmers. The preferred policy was to prioritize water allocation for agriculture. Dams, canals, and irrigation systems were built across the country, especially on Java, where more than 60% of the total population lived. In 2010, of a total population of 237 million, about 118 million lived in urban areas (49.79%). It is predicted that in 2013, the total urban population in Indonesia will be about 129.6 million, or 54% of the total population (i.e. 240 million). This means that water resource allocation for domestic consumption will increase.

Unfortunately, Indonesia does not yet have a policy on the past, recent, and future allocation of water resources. The 2004 Act No. 7 did govern water allocation, but with less priority. It specifies three different forms of water allocation: irrigation (i.e. agriculture), drinking water, and water conservation. The agenda is delegated to the Water Resource Agency which operates at central/national and local level. The agency was intended to be the policy maker on water resource allocation, as Indonesia has a very wide variety of areas, from the most developed area in Metropolitan Jakarta (Java) to the least developed Regency of Asmat (Papua). The challenge remains to find a viable direction toward water resource allocation in the different areas that guide local policy makers to develop an appropriate local water resource allocation policy.

For developing countries like Indonesia, agriculture still forms the priority for water resource allocation, as the country needs water to irrigate paddy fields. Agriculture demands approximately 80-85% of water resources. The second priority is drinking water and domestic consumption (10-15%) and the third is industry (5-10%), followed by social services (3-5%). The emerging issue is that the percentage will not become a zero-sum-calculation. It should be an-ecosystem(ic) calculation, with the water resource allocation for those priorities embracing each other. Therefore, the basic argument for water-use is that every sector should not generate waste water, but fresh-recycled water. There would then be no ‘water disposal’ from agriculture, or in domestic consumption, industry or social services. The green and sustainable approach generated by advanced green water technology and local methods needs to be elaborated and appreciated.

The next challenge is how to develop the right kind of policy. The policy should be deliberative , based on the inclusion of people and society, and take the partnership model for policy in water resource allocation as starting point. It would be developed in the local context based on a decentralized approach. Therefore, it needs to be governed by a partnership at local level in cooperation with the national level. The partnership could best be managed according to the ’doughnut model’ of governance.* The actors are government, the water resource agency, and local leaders. There will be a water policy ecosystem created at local level which manages local water resource allocation on the basis of local needs and interests. It will be a micro-ecosystem (MiES). The MiES (figure 1) needs to be developed together with other MiES in the surrounding areas to create an integrated MiES (figure 2). Policy action needs to be taken to overcome transboundary scarcities and water resource conflicts. The aggregation of the MiES will support the model for water resource allocation at national level which will lead to a blueprint for national policy on water resource allocation.

At global level, there is a need for global cooperation to develop a global learning programme in which all the member countries might learn from each other and creating a cross-fertilizing process between countries. There is no effective existing water partnership that successfully shares knowledge on the best way to govern water resource allocation between the South and North, and the South and South. On the contrary, the most effective way is the movement of global financial advisors, which promotes the model of privatizing water management – under the euphemism of public-private-partnership. Therefore, it will take an effort by globally well-accepted institutions to lead to a new vision of water governance in terms of its allocation.

The global movement of water resource allocation needs to embrace the key issue of an urbanized world. Indeed, there will be well-managed cities in well-developed countries – from Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei to Singapore. But there are many other cities emerging in less effectively managed countries in Africa, South Asia and Central America. They form the next agenda that needs to be deliberated as a different model. It would be a new model of cities based on different ideas and therefore policies. However, water resource allocation needs to be aligned toward integrated water governance that respects the balance between the sector’s priorities and those of the population – quality of welfare and gender differences. It would be a difficult and challenging task, as cities in less-developed countries hardly possess the soft skills required to acquire such direction, method and policy – as shown by my experience in promoting water governance in cities in Indonesia, especially Jakarta and its surrounding cities.

However, another challenge facing the future water agenda is protection of the environment. In Indonesia, the challenge is to educate people to manage water for its sustainability. Indonesia has difficulty stopping damage to water resources in western Java – where the most urbanized cities are located, including Jakarta and its surrounding cities, Bandung, and Bogor. Deforestation has affected about 12,000 hectares of rainforest. The causes of this endangering development are the absence of a water resource allocation policy, ineffective local water governance and local water resource agencies, and severe poverty. For the last 15 years, cities in Indonesia have been facing the same problem: unsound water governance caused by the absence of an effective policy on water resource allocation.

The future water agenda can be either an enduring debate or an effective problem-solving decision. It depends of the vision of the nation’s leaders.


* Nugroho, R. (2011) ‘The governance of the Jakarta water: The roke of the regulatory body’, Jakarta Water Governance, Stockholm. pdf