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Jan 28 2005
Supplied or written by Eko Nugroho

Public Citizen

From Defend the Global Commons - Jan 2005

Public Water for Maximum Benefit
Eko Nugroho, Program manager,
SAMADI Justice and Peace Institute, Indonesia

A public hydrant provided by the government-owned water company for an urban poor community has grown into a cooperative.

Sitting in his living room in mid-November, Ramelan, a father of four in his early forties, proudly spoke of two visits by Indian and Thai delegations of urban poor communities to his cooperative early this year to see how his community had successfully managed their public hydrant. The three-wheel-pedicab driver is the coordinator of Pajang neighborhood, a small urban poor community in the City of Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. The community has not only overcome the water problem, but made it a starting point for larger economic benefits.

Prior to the public hydrant, Pajang neighborhood faced grave water problems. Pajang residents are mostly pedicab drivers, petty traders, or those relying on activities in the informal sector of the economy for living. It remains one of the worst points of serious water pollution in the city of Surakarta. Of five streams flowing into the celebrated Bengawan (River) Solo, two cross the neighborhood, located in the Lawean sub-district, but hardly provide the population with safe potable water. Solo suffers the same fate that most cities and town on Java do - highly polluted surface water and depletion of ground water. Most of the community lacks access to piped water provided by the government-owned water company, and rely heavily on traditional wells and semi-automatic pumps.

A seminar on community participation in water management inspired the inhabitants of Pajang to propose for a public water hydrant. Surakarta Water Company responded positively, as it was part of its program to provide water for poor neighborhoods.

The public hydrant has had far-reaching positive effect to the community. It reduced the difficulties of access to potable water directly for twenty households who are its direct users and who pay regular user fees, the sum of which is set on the basis of agreement from all members in monthly meeting. And since most of the residents can no longer rely on their wells for potable water, non-member poor households in the neighborhood may also use the hydrant and pay a contribution for the water on voluntary basis.

Women take charge of the collection of user fees and manage it for the community benefit instead of delivering the sum to the city water company. Of the total number of hydrants that the public water company provides for poor neighborhoods, this has been a special treatment for a number of areas, including Pajang. Women also take charge of the maintenance of the hydrant, while men do the rehabilitation work for the common facility.

The collected user fees accumulate over time and turn into a source of capital to the community. The twenty direct beneficiaries plus poor residents of the same neighborhood formed a cooperative to manage the accumulating user fees. Named Tirta Usaha (Water Business) the cooperative later developed a Credit Union unit to primarily cater to the financial needs of women in developing economic activities to boost their family income and immediate financial needs of families, such as in educational fees of children. The women-managed cooperative has also begun to organize events with specific purposes such as health care services, in which it becomes the main financier.

Ramelan, the coordinator of the cooperative, may thank the city water company for the hydrant, but the community has proven itself creative and reliable in managing water, not only to overcome water problems, but also to overcome daily economic problems. Should it be called an alternative scheme, it would be a Public-Community partnership.

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