The Issue of “Water Justice”, Case Example of Water Resources for Indigenous Peoples of Toba District

The Issue of “Water Justice”, Case Example of Water Resources for Indigenous Peoples of Toba District

Water justice refers to the fair and equitable distribution, management, and access to water resources for all people, regardless of their social, economic, or geographical circumstances. It encompasses various issues related to water, including availability, affordability, quality, and governance. Here are some water justice issues that exist:
  1. Lack of Access: Many communities around the world, especially in developing countries, lack access to clean and safe water for drinking, cooking, and sanitation purposes. This lack of access disproportionately affects marginalized groups, including rural populations, indigenous communities, and slum dwellers.
  2. Water Privatization: In some cases, water resources and services have been privatized, leading to concerns about affordability, quality, and accountability. Privatization can result in increased water prices, reduced access for low-income communities, and inadequate service provision.
  3. Water Scarcity: Water scarcity is a significant challenge in various regions, particularly arid and drought-prone areas. Unequal distribution of water resources exacerbates the problem, as it often leads to competition and conflicts over access, affecting vulnerable populations the most.
  4. Pollution and Contamination: Water pollution, caused by industrial activities, agricultural runoff, inadequate wastewater treatment, and other factors, poses a threat to both human health and the environment. Polluted water sources disproportionately impact marginalized communities that lack resources to mitigate the effects.
  5. Climate Change Impacts: Climate change is altering rainfall patterns, causing more frequent and intense droughts and floods. These changes affect water availability and quality, further exacerbating existing water disparities and placing vulnerable communities at greater risk.
  6. Inadequate Sanitation: Access to proper sanitation facilities, including toilets and wastewater treatment, is essential for public health and dignity. However, many communities lack adequate sanitation infrastructure, leading to increased health risks, particularly for women and girls who may face safety concerns when accessing sanitation facilities.
  7. Unequal Water Governance: Water governance frameworks and decision-making processes often exclude marginalized groups, leading to the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens. This can perpetuate social inequalities and hinder the meaningful participation of affected communities in water-related decisions.
Addressing water justice requires comprehensive approaches that prioritize social equity, sustainability, and community participation. It involves ensuring universal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation, promoting sustainable water resource management, and empowering marginalized communities to participate in decision-making processes related to water.
Condition of water resources in Indonesia
The National Water Resources Council explained that in 2025, Indonesia is threatened with a medium-level water crisis, the peak of which is in 2040 Indonesia will actually experience a water crisis along with 9 other countries including Angola, Nambia, Turkey, Italy, Russia, China and India.
Dwikorita Karnawati, Head of BMKG at the 10th World Water Forum said that the water crisis is becoming a serious threat and must be the concern of the whole country. The threat of a water crisis due to climate change, aided by GHG emissions, has resulted in the process of global warming continuing. The decreasing availability of surface water and ground water will affect the availability of clean water in various places. Climate change also makes the process of rainfall extreme and uneven, where some areas have high rainfall while other areas do not. The 2020 Study Report on the Quality of Household Drinking Water in Indonesia reports that 7 out of 10 households in Indonesia use water contaminated with Eschericia coli (E-Coli) bacteria. Based on a study conducted by ITB environmental experts, it shows that only 18.1% of Indonesia’s population has access to safe water, while 81.9% do not.
Water is a very vital need in people’s lives. The clean water crisis is predicted to result in a large part of the population in various cities in Indonesia being forced to use and consume water contaminated with E. Coli and Coliform bacteria.
How about the water resources used by the indigenous people of Toba District?
Toba District is in the government area of Sanggau Regency, West Kalimantan Province. With an area of 105.991,25 hectares, Toba District is divided into 7 villages including the Villages of Teraju, Lumut, Balai Belungai, Belungai Dalam, Sansat, Kampung Baru and Bagan Asam. Based on BPS data for 2020, the population in Toba District is 15.829 people. The population in Toba District is dominated by indigenous Dayak people with various sub-tribes including Desa Dayak, Tobag, Kanayant, and Ribun. Others are Malay, Chinese, Batak and Javanese.
Indigenous peoples in Toba District generally rely on several types of water sources to meet their daily needs, including rainwater, wells, rivers and bottled water. The use of rainwater is generally for drinking and cooking. The availability of rainwater depends on the intensity of rainfall which is also currently affected by climate change. As a result, the erratic rainy season means that rain can fall with high intensity over a long enough span of time to cause flooding or even not to fall for a long enough time and cause drought. In addition, indigenous peoples also depend on water sources from rivers which are used for MCK needs and for farming, but now river water is heavily polluted and contaminated. Some of the factors causing pollution and contamination of river water include:
  1. Household waste management and poor sanitation
  2. Waste from mining company operations, and oil palm plantations that leak
  3. Leftover fertilizer from oil palm plantation companies and HTI that flows into plantation canals and empties into large rivers.
  4. Management, permits for investments in companies located in Toba District which are located close to community water sources make it often the potential for pollution to occur.
In some villages there are those who have to depend on bottled water for consumption which is purchased at quite high prices, about IDR 10.000/gallon because transportation to these villages and hamlets is quite difficult.
As a result of pollution and contamination of water sources with many of the factors above, indigenous peoples must lose sources of clean water apart from being unusable, silting of rivers due to soil dissolving with water due to mining operations. Itchy disease suffered by people, especially children. Then, the river as a place for people to carry out traditional rituals cannot be used either. Some of the impacts above have even forced some indigenous peoples to move to higher ground to get water sources that are still maintained.

Picture: Mining company activities cause sand and soil to enter the river, resulting in silting of the river and the water cannot be used by the community (Sansat Village, Toba District).

Picture: WP from a bauxite mining company in Toba District which has an impact on environmental conditions and the surrounding forests.

Picture: The river which used to have a depth of up to 2 meters and the water was used to meet the needs of the surrounding community including in carrying out traditional rituals, is now due to mining operations bringing soil and sand materials into the river causing extraordinary siltation to occur leaving a small pool of water.

From the conditions of exposure and the problems above, the following issues of “Water Justice” are things that currently should have been done by various parties including:
Government as a Policy Maker and Implementer:
  1. Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Rights: Governments should recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to land, water, and natural resources. This involves implementing legal frameworks, such as adopting and enforcing laws that safeguard indigenous rights and promote their meaningful participation in water resource management decisions.
  2. Inclusive Water Governance: Governments should establish inclusive and participatory water governance structures that involve indigenous communities in decision-making processes. This can be done through the creation of platforms, such as water boards or committees, where indigenous peoples have a voice and can actively contribute to the management of water resources.
  3. Legal Frameworks and Regulations: Governments should develop and enforce regulations that address the specific concerns and needs of indigenous peoples regarding water resources. This may include regulations on water allocation, pollution control, and environmental impact assessments, ensuring that indigenous communities are adequately protected from harmful practices.
  4. Adequate Water Infrastructure and Services: Governments should invest in the development of water infrastructure and services in indigenous communities to ensure reliable access to clean and safe water sources. This may involve providing funding and technical support for the construction of wells, water treatment facilities, and sanitation infrastructure.
Natural Resource Extraction Companies:
  1. Respect for Indigenous Rights: Companies should respect the rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to water resources. This involves conducting thorough consultations and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous communities before initiating any extraction operations that may impact water sources.
  2. Environmental Impact Assessments: Companies should conduct comprehensive environmental impact assessments prior to commencing operations. These assessments should evaluate the potential impacts on water resources and identify measures to mitigate and manage any negative effects. The assessments should involve meaningful engagement with indigenous communities and incorporate their traditional knowledge and concerns.
  3. Responsible Water Management: Companies should adopt responsible water management practices, including minimizing water consumption, reducing pollution, and implementing efficient wastewater treatment systems. This helps minimize the negative impacts on water resources and ensures the availability of clean water for indigenous communities and other stakeholders.
Indigenous Peoples:
  1. Strengthening Community Capacities: Indigenous communities can build their capacities by acquiring knowledge and skills related to water resource management, including monitoring water quality, conservation techniques, and sustainable use practices. This empowers communities to actively participate in decision-making processes and protect their water resources.
  2. Advocacy and Awareness: Indigenous communities can engage in advocacy efforts to raise awareness about their rights to water resources and the impacts of water-related issues on their communities. This can involve collaborating with local and international organizations, sharing their stories, and highlighting the importance of water justice.
  3. Traditional Knowledge and Practices: Indigenous communities can preserve and promote their traditional knowledge and practices related to water management. This knowledge often encompasses sustainable practices and a deep understanding of local ecosystems, which can contribute to the conservation and protection of water resources.
  4. Collaboration and Partnerships: Indigenous communities can collaborate with government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to address water-related challenges collectively. By forging partnerships, indigenous peoples can leverage resources, expertise, and support to ensure their voices are heard and their water rights are respected.
Overall, addressing water justice requires a multi-faceted approach that involves the active participation and collaboration of governments, natural resource extraction companies, and indigenous communities. By working together, policies and practices can be developed and implemented to safeguard water resources, uphold indigenous rights, and ensure equitable access to water for all.



[3] Rekacipta ITB, Selasa 9 Mei 2023, Halaman 8



Writer: Sefdiantoro
Publisher: Teraju Indonesia
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