Community engagement can ease the pressures of urban drought, but government interventions are the key to sustained change.
Indonesia holds 6 percent of the world’s water potential – fresh water that can be used directly for daily human needs. Despite this, 85 percent of the country is in drought, according to government officials.
Java, its most populous island, has reached a ‘crisis’ point, and water deficits are expected until at least 2070. Water quality across the vast island is also expected to significantly decline, as resources are not well managed. Increased public awareness and community engagement can begin to ease these pressures, but government interventions are the key to sustained change.
Last year the local government of Bantul regency, in the region of Yogyakarta, Java, alerted its residents to the high possibility of widespread drought. The regency grew rapidly in recent times: urbanisation increased because of new infrastructure connecting villages to urban areas. A total of 99.4 percent of the island’s area is threatened by drought, according to 2013–17 data (the latest available) from national disaster body BNPB, and more than 13 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. The situation has been made worse by climate change, which increases overall temperatures and alters the duration and distribution of rain.
Drought often refers to a natural phenomenon of reduced water availability. But urban drought is also heavily influenced by human activity. Population growth increases the need for and use of water, creating an imbalance in water supply and demand. Continued growth triggers water scarcity in the long run.
In a study, researchers collected 2008–18 data from 12 weather stations across the Bantul regency and found the eastern, southern and western areas were particularly hard hit by drought. They also found below-average rainfall and recurring days without rain between May and August. Residents of Bantul rely on wells as their main water source – 73 percent of water for daily needs comes from these, despite local reports of many slowly drying up. Other main water sources are pipes (providing 14.5 percent of publicly available water), which mainly bring water from the Progo and Oyo rivers, managed by government-owned Perumdam Tirta Projotamansari. Less than 1 percent of publicly available water comes from freshwater springs, and rainwater reservoirs account for less than 0.04 percent.
Building resilience to urban drought requires a collaborative approach from governments, academia, the private sector, community groups and the media. The government plays an important role in providing reliable infrastructures to meet water needs in the Bantul regency, starting with storage, distribution, and equitable access for users. More of the budget will need to be allocated to ensuring a supply of clean water, and legal policies related to water resources management are needed – such as regulations on water use, damage control, conservation and quality standards.
These changes will ensure a reliable, safe and accessible water supply for everyone in the community. Local media also play a vital role in sharing effective water management practices that can be replicated at home. Universities and the private sector can contribute by sharing innovative studies, technology and mentoring.
Community participation and public awareness of water saving can play a major role in anticipating and managing urban drought. Household rainwater harvesting can boost low government reservoirs, and the community can collect, store and distribute rainwater to meet their local needs. Urban communities can use rainwater collection ponds, infiltration wells in yards, or biopore holes that can reduce runoff, fertilise soils and prevent flooding.
Rainwater harvesting has huge potential: the rainfall rate in Bantul regency is relatively high during the wet season at more than 1,500 millimetres per year. Areas such as Sedayu, Piyungan and Pandak have begun using these methods, and widespread adoption would begin to make sustainable changes across the region.
Annisa Mu’awanah Sukmawati is a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Technology Yogyakarta. She is interested in urban and regional issues especially those related to settlements, disasters, and communities.
Puji Utomo works as a lecturer in the Civil Department, University of Technology Yogyakarta. He is focused on water resource engineering.
The authors previously received funding from the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Indonesia.