Citarum and IWRM: A Guinea Pig for ADB

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by: Hamong Santono (KRuHA) and Diana Goeltom (debtWATCH Indonesia)

Citarum, a river 270 km long, is one of the important rivers in Java. Millions of people, especially those who live in Jakarta, are dependent on this river for their needs in agriculture and industry, and for their supply of clean water. Without the Citarum River, Jakarta would be a dead city since 80% of its water supply comes from the mentioned river. Ironically, it may no longer be sufficient to call Citarum as the river which can guarantee millions of lives. Many are now reporting Citarum as the longest ‘trash bin’ in the world.[1]Various programs and projects keep coming in that aim to make Citarum adequate enough to be used as a river. One of the upcoming programs, the Integrated Citarum Water Resources Management Investment Program (ICWRMIP), is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a total amount of USD 500 million. The Government of Indonesia and ADB signed the loan agreement in December 2008, with the first tranche amounting to USD 50 million. The bottom line of the program is to implement the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a concept that has been accepted by almost without critique. ADB wants to make Citarum as their ‘animal testing’ on IWRM.

Despite using the ‘integrated’ jargon of IWRM, this program is basically able to guarantee only the water supply to Jakarta which is populated by approximately 9 million people. So it is predictable that the project itself was designed to first rehabilitate the West Tarum Canal – the main canal supplying the water to Jakarta. In this current condition, the beneficiaries of the project are two private water operators in Jakarta (i.e., Palyja and Aetra), since these two operators are paid for water production, and not for water distribution. The argument is enhanced by the fact that ADB also issued a loan to Palyja in the amount of USD 50 million for the company’s capital expenditure program that will target the expansion of the company’s water production and supply network in its West Jakarta concession area. [2] On the other hand, with the large non-revenue water (NRW) in Jakarta, especially the 45% of Palyja’s [3], it is doubtful that the project will benefit the people.

If the project will apply the concept of IWRM, will this really ensure that the precondition of IWRM in the ICWRMIP is going to be fulfilled? One of the IWRM preconditions is wide genuine participation, as the situation really relies on the existing democratic system. Since the democratic system In Indonesia is still in its infancy, it is tough to promote genuine public participation in the management of the Citarum River. [4]

Another issue is that water resource is not a development priority in Indonesia. It is not a surprise therefore that we clearly see many rivers in Indonesia left abandoned. The main cause is not the budget availability, but mainly the point of view of the decision makers on water resource management. There are more than ten (10) ministries responsible for the water resources but no coordination exists among them. A project implementing IWRM without carefully reviewing the institutional governance is like ensuring another useless loan project would be executed. It is another “guinea pig,” and the people are the sacrificial lambs.

Hamong Santono is a Coordinator of People’s Coalition for the Right to Water (KRuHA/Koalisi Rakyat untuk Hak atas Air) in Indonesia. Diana Goeltom is a Research Coordinator in debtWATCH Indonesia and an International Committee member of the NGO Forum on ADB. KRuHA and debtWATCH have been monitoring the ADB-funded project Integrated Citarum Water Resources Management Investment Program. Diana can be reached at


  3. Djamal, Irzal, Penurunan Kehilangan Air: Pengalaman Jakarta setelah kerjasama pelayanan air minum pemerintah-swasta 1998-2008, page 74.

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