Indonesia comprises a vast archipelago with five main islands, two major groups, and 60 smaller island groups, which are all facing water-related challenges. Water stress is only a challenge for the island groups of Java, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur or NTT), and Sulawesi. On the other hand, Papua, Kalimantan, and Sumatra struggle more with access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services. All island groups face heavily polluted surface water, but Java, Bali and NTT, and Kalimantan are most affected .
Indonesia has significant renewable water resources, but they are unevenly distributed and often water supply and demand do not align , . Freshwater is abundant on Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua where population density is low, while freshwater is less available on more densely populated islands like Java . Only around 6% of all available water resources are found on Java, which is home to about 57% of Indonesia’s population, resulting in localized water shortages. Within islands, the availability of water resources also varies spatially and temporally .
Water demand is rapidly increasing in Indonesia due to demographic and economic forces. Water demand is expected to increase by 31% between 2015 and 2045 in the country. Agriculture accounted for about 80% of water demand in 2019 but is expected to face increasing competition for water from other sectors. This is likely to impact food security in the country and the livelihoods of a third of the population that are dependent on agriculture. Between 2015 and 2045, agricultural water demand is expected to increase by only about 10% while industrial water demand is expected to increase fourfold .
Demand for water is concentrated in areas with relatively limited resources and many economically important river and groundwater basins are subject to water stress, particularly in the dry season. According to the World Bank, half of the country’s GDP is produced in river basins that suffer ‘high’ and ‘severe’ stress in the dry season, which is expected to increase. Without action, by 2045, two-thirds (67%) of GDP is predicted to be generated in highly or severely stressed basins. Additionally, by 2045, water shortages are predicted to reduce GDP by up to 2.5% annually .
The effects of groundwater over-abstraction, if left unaddressed, largely for domestic, commercial, and industrial water supply, are predicted to reduce GDP by up to 1.42% by 2045. Over-abstraction of groundwater is leading to aquifer depletion, land subsidence, and seawater intrusion and has increased the exposure of sunken lands to flooding particularly in urban centers across Indonesia . For instance, Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, sinking at an average of 1 to 15 cm per year. Half of Jakarta is currently below sea level but is protected in part by a large sea wall, however, rising sea levels and continued subsidence may undermine the wall and cause flooding. Land subsidence also occurs in several other cities in Java, including Bandung, Semarang, Pekalongan, and in the northeast (Blanakan) and Medan in Sumatra .
The majority of Indonesia’s population is exposed to water pollution . Unfortunately, the extent of the harm caused by water pollution in Indonesia is unknown as up to three-quarters of the population live in areas where water quality is not monitored. However, where water is tested, about 85% of the population are exposed to fecal coliform pollution in water sources, according to a report by the World Bank. Further, more than half of Indonesia’s rivers are heavily polluted, and two of the country’s major river systems are among the most polluted in the world. Water pollution can have significant impacts on health, including acute illnesses such as diarrhea and chronic diseases such as cancer and other degenerative diseases, organ damage, embryo defects, and stunting. Indonesia’s severe child stunting problem (35% of children under 5) is in part linked to water pollution and poor sanitation .
One of the main water-related challenges facing Indonesia is the lack of basic sanitation. Indonesia has lower levels of access to basic sanitation than would be predicted based on its levels of GDP and the country has not achieved its ambitious targets for universal access to sanitation by 2019. A sewerage connection is available to less than 2% of the population. Nationwide 79% of the population depend on septic tanks for sanitation. Around 20% of the population rely on unimproved sanitation, with vast differences across the islands and the lowest rate on Maluku. Open defecation is still practiced by about 10% of the population nationwide (in 2017) and 17% of the rural population. Further, nationwide only about 7.4% of municipal wastewater is safely collected and treated, meaning the remaining 92.6% is discharged untreated to water bodies. About 70% of Indonesia’s groundwater pollution comes from leaking septic tanks and septage disposed into waterways, which many households continue to depend on for their water supply. Poor groundwater quality in combination with poor access to WASH services has been found to contribute to increased infant mortality, particularly in low-income areas of Indonesia .
Water in Indonesia is generally abundant but demographic and economic pressures are contributing to growing water stress in key economic river basins . High municipal and irrigation demand are leading to water stress in Java, particularly during the dry season. In West Java, urban water security is threatened by low access to piped water supply and extensive pollution of most water sources. Further, deforestation reduces dry season water availability, increases flood risks, and reduces dam capacity .
Indonesia mostly depends on surface water resources for formal water supply delivery, yet water storage capacity is low and insufficiently managed . Agriculture is the main source of surface water demand, but surface water also has important non-consumptive uses, including hydropower generation .
The main users of groundwater in Indonesia are industries, commercial establishments, and households that have drilled their own wells. In 2019, 46% of all domestic water came from groundwater. The absence of access to reliable piped water supply is a major cause of over-abstraction, as users without piped access resort to unregulated groundwater abstraction .
Climate change is expected to increase drought frequency and severity, and lead to severe dry season water shortages in water stressed areas . According to Indonesia’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC (2010), 14% of the country’s 453 districts record no months of surplus water. This is projected to increase to 20% by 2025, and to 31% by 2050. In additional to water scarcity, saltwater intrusion is another issue that Indonesia’s water resources are faced with. This is currently experienced along Indonesia’s coastline and is exacerbated by factors including land subsidence, sea level rise and groundwater exploitation .
The main sources of water pollution in Indonesia include untreated municipal wastewater, industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and mismanaged solid waste. Deforestation and palm oil expansion are also further deteriorating water quality .
Key policies and governance approach
Indonesia is a decentralized, unitary republic divided into 5 layers of government. In 2000, wide-ranging decentralization programs and reforms were adopted, which replaced the previous system of centralized government. As a result, responsibilities in the areas of public works, health, environment, agriculture, manufacturing, and other sectors are transferred to provinces, regencies, and cities, and the central government provides monitoring, evaluation, and guidance on national priorities. District-level mandates and minimum targets for basic services, including drinking and wastewater, are stipulated in the national Local Government Law (23/2014) .
Responsibilities for the water sector are divided horizontally among multiple sectoral ministries and their local branches . This includes, among others, the Ministry of National Development Planning/National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS), responsible for developing national policies related to planning, budgeting, and regulation, including the National Development Plan ; the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MoPWH), responsible for water resources and river basin management, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, dam safety and standard operating agreements with, for example, hydropower developers ; the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF), responsible for monitoring and reporting on surface water quality and controlling pollution, and catchment management; and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, responsible for monitoring the quantity and quality of groundwater through the management of 421 groundwater basins . The functions of these ministries are carried out by provincial and local governments .
Indonesia has also developed several key policies, plans and laws related to water management which includes, among others, Law No. 17 on Water Resources (2019); Law No. 11 Jobs Creation Law (Omnibus Law) (2020); Government Regulation No. 43 on Ground Water (2008); and the Presidential Regulation No. 12 concerning the Water Resources Council (2008) . The Water Resources Law (2019) aims to tackle the imbalance between water availability and water demand in the country . The Law prioritizes water uses for domestic, irrigation, and commercial uses, requires water use licenses from private sector, and affirms central and regional government control and regulatory authority for water resources .
Further, most of the country’s national strategic river basins and trans-provincial river basins that are under the central government have in place the Strategic Water Resources Management Plans (Pola Atau Rencana Strategis, pola) and Master Plans for River Management (rencana), for example, Brantas, Bengawan Solo, Citarum, Ciliwung, Cimanuk and Komering. In these river basins, all development and management activities are based on their 5-year development plans, which are funded by the central government through the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The plans contain 5 aspects of Water Resources Management (WRM), i.e., conservation, utilization, water related disaster management, provision of a WRM information system and the strengthening of community participation in WRM .
Concerning water pollution, the most important regulation on water quality control in Indonesia is the Government Regulation No. 82/2001 on Management of Water Quality and Control over Water Pollution , which establishes the framework for implementation of water pollution control, including aspects of prevention, protection, and recovery .
Successes and remaining challenges
Indonesia’s surface water is managed in 128 river basins and groundwater is managed in 421 groundwater basins. Therefore, the planning, management, and protection of water concerns many sectors and agencies and all levels of government, which complicates fully integrated water resources management (IWRM) at the basin level .
Responsibility for managing and protecting water resources is fragmented across 18 ministries , . As a result, implementation of IWRM in Indonesia is challenged by a lack of coordination among ministries, as each has its own laws, regulations, goals, programs, and targets that must be achieved within a specified time and budget . Jurisdictions and planning documents overlap spatially and without integration, targets may not be achieved and may even impede each other . These challenges may also arise due a lack of communication among ministries, institutions and across regions .
River basin organizations (RBOs) are responsible for coordinating management across ministries within each basin, however they lack the funding and capacity to fulfil this mandate. Funding and capacity constraints also hinder the implementation of Recanas, which are important for annual work planning and budgeting . Additional challenges facing RBOs that limit their efficient and effective functioning include a lack of focus on maintenance and operation, lack of clarity in terms of actual cost of service, overlap of function and task between RBOs and other entities involved in river basin operations, inability to fully recover its cost, and lack of stakeholder participation , . Further, water quality issues and pollution control are outside of RBO’s legal remit .
As a result, a priority for Indonesia should be to clarify responsibilities, strengthen the coordination framework, and align all the multiple planning processes so that water resources management genuinely integrates all interests within each basin. The passing of the Water Resources Law (2019) and the Omnibus Law (2020) provides an opportunity to address coordination and implementation challenges and to move towards more integrated water resources management in Indonesia .
However, gaps exist in Indonesia’s legal regulatory framework. For instance, on the regulation of water and wastewater services, the Water Resources Law contains no provision on how water ‘services’ should be regulated. While the Water Resources Law briefly mentions sanitation in the context of surface water protection and conservation in the elucidation, it does not regulate sanitation nor defines it as a basic service. However, as water supply and wastewater services will require huge investments with long-term horizon, a solid regulatory framework is needed for the sustainability of such systems. A special law on water and wastewater services should be developed for legal and regulatory clarity—and to thus address Indonesia’s water pollution challenges .
There is also a legal and regulatory void relating to groundwater planning, conservation, utilization (except for licensing), and damage control. Before the 2015 Judicial Reviews, Government Regulation No. 43 on Ground Water (2008) regulated the planning, implementation, monitoring, conservation, utilization, and damage control on groundwater. However, the 2015 Judicial Review rendered Government Regulation 43/2008 void. As a result, the country’s groundwater planning mechanism has no clear legal basis, nor is there a strong legal basis for preventing saltwater intrusion and land subsidence or for taking countermeasures .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Government of Indonesia successfully hosted a high-level meeting for responsible ministers for WASH to progress towards national SDG targets known as the Sector Ministers’ Meeting (SMM) in Jakarta from 18-19 May 2022, with the central theme of “Building Forward Better for Recovery and Resilience”. In SMM 2022, with UNICEF’s support, Indonesia reviewed the progress of existing WASH commitments and drafted new commitments with all stakeholders. As reflected in Indonesia’s new country commitments, the key takeaways from SMM 2022 are improving accountability, financing WASH, collaboration to achieve SDG 6, linking climate and WASH, and political leadership for WASH. Additionally, through the engagement with all stakeholders, a compendium of case studies that showcases WASH best practices in Indonesia was developed. The Government of Indonesia will coordinate all relevant stakeholders for implementing and monitoring the new commitments. Furthermore, hosting the 2022 SMM allowed Indonesia to take a more prominent role in and contribute to global WASH and other relevant agendas .
Sustainable sanitation services are promoted through the Program for the Acceleration of Housing Sanitation Development (PPSP), which focuses on (1) Increasing institutional capacity in sanitation management services; (2) Increasing commitment of regional governments; (3) Development of settlement sanitation infrastructure and services; (4) Increasing changes in community behaviour; and (5) Development of cooperation and funding patterns .
Goals and Ambitions
As outlined in the National Medium-Term Development Plan 2020–2024 (RPJMN), Indonesia’s targets to achieve by 2024, include :
- 90% of households live in housing with access to proper sanitation, including 15% of households with access to safe sanitation.
- 100% of households live in housing with access to proper drinking water, including 15% of households with access to safe drinking water.
- 30% of households with access to piped water.
- 0% of households that still practice open defecation.
- Restore 4 critical watersheds, by reducing erosion in critical watershed areas by greening 150,000 ha of land.
By 2030, the government of Indonesia aims to provide access to piped water supply for the entire population .
- Improve water governance and accountability by clarifying responsibilities across ministries and departments as well as strengthening coordination mechanisms.
- Strengthen integrated planning at the basin level by implementing the ‘one basin, one plan, one management’ approach required in the Water Resources Law.
- Strengthen coordination between subnational governments on water issues, and clearly define authority across government levels.
- Harmonize the Strategic Water Resources Management Plans (Pola Atau Rencana Strategis, pola) and Master Plans for River Management (rencana) with other sector plans as well as with land use zoning and spatial plans.
- Improve basin management and performance of RBOs by enhancing technical and financial capability, as well as re-aligning incentives and increasing accountability.
- Enhance capacity across government to manage increasingly complex water challenges by developing the technical, financial, and managerial skills of water professionals, practitioners, and key workers, especially in the RBOs.
- Enhance cooperation between the government and the private sector and civil society and create incentives for a culture of sustainable water management behaviour.
- Establish a real time national water information and knowledge management system, which integrates and verifies all relevant databases.
- Harmonize the Water Resources Law and Omnibus Law with the existing legal framework.
- Consider the issuance of a water and wastewater service law.
- Issue regulations on key outstanding points requiring clarification from the Water Resources Law, including groundwater, water allocation and environmental flows.
- Develop a coordination mechanism for developing and revising all ministerial regulations concerning water across all relevant ministries.
- Update the National Policy on Water Resources Management (Jaknas) as part of the revisions.
- Hierarchy of law needs to be exercised after basic law, to reflect natural phenomenon and level of urgency and impact of issues being considered. For example, laws on environment, natural conservation, water, should have a higher position than sectoral laws such as agriculture, mining, etc.
- Ministry of Law and Human Right has the duty to synchronise law formulation in order to reduce potential conflicts and create synergy among sectors.
- There is a need to conduct an intensive and massive capacity development program on IWRM principles.
 Khalil, Abedalrazq; Moeller-Gulland, Jennifer; Ward, Christopher; Al’Afghani, Mohamad Mova; Perwitasari, Tarasinta; Octaviani, Kamelia; Riani, Etty; Liao, Xiawei; and Amjad Muhammad Khan. 2021. “Indonesia: Vision 2045.” Towards Water Security” Water Security Diagnostic. World Bank, Washington, DC.
 Circle of Blue (2022). HotSpots H2O: Polluted Rivers, Scarce Water, Sinking Capital: Report Warns of Dire Water Threats Facing Indonesia. [Online]. Available: https://www.circleofblue.org/2022/hotspots/hotspots-h2o-polluted-rivers-scarce-water-sinking-capital-report-warns-of-dire-water-threats-facing-indonesia.
 EnviX, Ltd. (2022). Indonesia, Water Quality Control. [Online]. Available: https://enviliance.com/regions/southeast-asia/id/id-water.