Despite Southeast Asia’s tropical climate and overall abundant rainfall, UNESCO, the U.N. Organization for Education, Science and Culture, identified this region as one that will become highly susceptible to water stress during the 21st century. And according to the NGO Water.org, Indonesia — Southeast Asia’s largest economy — is falling far short of meeting the water needs of many of its citizens. An estimated 102 million Indonesians lack access to decent sanitation facilities, and 37 million do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. The results not only pose a huge risk to public health, but will also impede future economic development in a nation where per-capita income is below $3,500 annually.
The reality for Indonesia, as well as for its Southeast Asian neighbors, is that the private sector will have to step up in order to develop the infrastructure necessary to provide safe, clean and potable water to its citizens, as many governments in this region are either lacking capacity or are just too corrupt to take on the task.
To that end, UNESCO is partnering with several organizations, including Habitat for Humanity Indonesia and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), on a project that aims to improve the quality and safety of drinking water in this country of 250 million people.
The project is located on Pari Island, which is in Kepulauan Seribu, or the Thousand Islands, an archipelago of over 1,000 islands located north of the island of Java and Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Pari Island is one of only 13 islands within this chain that is fully developed as a tourist destination. But its sparkling white sand beaches contrasted with the surrounding stellar water belie the fact that much of the available water on Pari Island is highly saline and unfit for human consumption.
To that end, UNESCO launched a project on this island that falls under the United Nations Global Compact’s (UNGC) Water Mandate. The Mandate’s core elements are supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, education and community engagement ,and transparency. The Pari Island Project addresses the Mandate’s focus on collective action and community engagement and also supports what APP says is its commitment to addressing Indonesia’s water challenge beyond the areas in which the company operates.
According to APP, UNESCO asked the company to assess the underlying problems involving water in Pari Island. The company found that the challenges on this island are similar to some of the communities in which APP conducts business, including the lack of awareness of effective hygienic practices and an overall substandard water quality.
Throughout the project, APP worked with its partners to introduce what it insists are the two best approaches to help address the water challenges the island faces: first, to raise awareness on the importance of effective hygienic practices within the island’s communities; and in addition, APP and its partners tasked themselves with introducing new technologies, such as updated methods for saline water treatment and biopore holes, in order to improve the water quality from its existing water sources.
APP said it is still evaluating these new programs to determine how they can be replicated in other communities within and beyond the areas in which it operates. “Our ultimate hope is that, through this project, we’ll find a way to introduce technology to communities that encourage sustainable application even after the project is completed,” explained Librian Angraeni, APP’s sustainability manager and a chair of the Indonesia Water Mandate Working Group (IWMWG).
Over the past several years, APP also launched other water stewardship programs across its home base of Indonesia, Ms. Angraeni said. In 2012, the company partnered with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) to install water purification devices in Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Biosphere Reserve. And the company is no stranger to Habitat for Humanity Indonesia: Past projects include their work together to refurbish six water sources for the rural community of Soran in Central Java Province, as well as the construction of sanitation facilities in the West Java province of Serang.
In addition to this community work, APP says it has conducted water footprint assessment within all of its major operations. The water assessment was completed between 2012 and 2015, and the result was a detailed water mapping of all of its operations and revealed areas of potential water savings.
So, what is in it for APP to work on these water projects? After all, the challenge the company faces in its water conservation efforts is that the cost of this resource in Indonesia is relatively low; hence these water-saving projects do not generally save APP a substantial amount of money. However, the company says that tackling these projects makes good business sense by linking water saving to other aspects including like energy and fiber, which will lead to greater cost savings and water-saving benefits in the long term.
At the company’s Indah Kiat Perawang plant, for example, data resulting from a water footprint analysis helped the mill identify more than 60 improvement opportunities across its operations, from raw water treatment to the overall efficiency of the pulp and paper factory’s equipment. The end result is that the mill is now able to reduce its consumption by 50,000 cubic meters of water daily. When compared to the amount of water this mill consumed five years ago, it has since reduced its water intensity by 21 percent for pulp production and 8 percent for paper production.
In recent years, the U.N. touted its Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, as the way forward if the world is going to alleviate poverty while preparing for a growing population that could top 9 billion people by 2050. One of these most important goals is No. 17, which enlists partnerships to further the SDG goals.
There is no way the U.N. and national governments can come close to achieving these efforts without enlisting the private sector. The work of companies such as APP gives these businesses the opportunity to share their capacity and expertise in order to prepare for a more crowded world, while also offering them the chance to look inward and find ways to make their own operations and supply chains far more sustainable, responsible and efficient.
Image credit: Asia Pulp and Paper