A socio-technical investigation of Jakarta’s opportunity for leapfrogging towards sustainable water management

As Indonesian and Australian cities look to transition towards water sensitivity, there are significant lessons to be learned and shared, creating partnerships that support leapfrogging towards sustainable urban water management. The aim of this project was therefore to develop a socio-technical understanding of drivers, barriers and opportunities for water sensitivity in Jakarta to inform an agenda for collaborative interdisciplinary research to transform water management in Indonesia and Australia.

The project worked with three key main objectives:

  • Analyse the current socio-technical water management practices in Jabodetabek to identify the current state of Jakarta’s water management practice in relation to changing societal expectations around water supply, public health, flood protection, watershed management, environmental health, climate resilience and the upstream-downstream relationships of waterways.
  • Investigate the potential for water-sensitive city principles to be applied in Jakarta in consideration of its local context. Understanding the local context and the characteristics of Jakarta’s water system in relation to the water-sensitive city principles is critical to identify the desired processes and pathways for leapfrogging.
  • Scope the agenda for a collaborative interdisciplinary research program for advancing water-sensitive management practices in Indonesian and Australian cities. Supporting Australia’s and Indonesia’s transition towards water-sensitive cities will require significant knowledge gaps across each of these areas to be addressed through interdisciplinary research that is scoped with reference to empirical evidence from both countries.

The project was conducted in two phases. The first involved a scoping study carried out by Monash and IPB researchers. Data was collected through literature review, desktop analysis, site visits and interviews with local stakeholders. These were analysed to develop a background report that informs the second phase of the project, which involves the second phase of the project, which was a two-day stakeholder workshop, co-hosted by the AIC, Monash University, IPB, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) in Jakarta, Indonesia. A broad group of approximately 60 academic, government, industry and civil society participants attended the workshop.

The activities undertaken in this project have established strong partnerships among the participating research institutes and stakeholder organisations for undertaking further collaborative research towards the water-sensitive cities agenda.

Managing water infrastructure to ensure adequate supply and sanitation services, minimise flooding and support healthy environments is challenging, especially with increasing urbanisation and climate change impacts. The concept of ‘water-sensitive cities’ is emerging in response, offering water management principles for enhancing urban liveability, sustainability and resilience. As Indonesian and Australian cities look to transition towards water sensitivity, there are significant lessons to be learned and shared. This project developed a socio-technical understanding of drivers, barriers and opportunities for water sensitivity in Jakarta to inform an important first step in developing an agenda for interdisciplinary research.

A range of technical, social and institutional challenges are currently perceived to inhibit Jabodetabek’s advancement towards more water-sensitive practices. Prior to the commencement of the workshop, the socio-technical analysis provided a context and explanation of some of the urban water challenges faced in Jabodetabek.

The factor most widely regarded as limiting advancement towards a more sustainable urban water management is limited coordination and integration in policy and governance arrangements. An example to this is the lack of regulation in land use change, despite the lack of coherence between the national masterplan and the local Jabodetabek masterplan, as well as the lack of synergy with local developer objectives.

The workshop also identified that the drivers for change are not evident to the community, thus, there is a lack of water literacy and participation in the community. The low community involvement is perceived to be a significant challenge in creating the momentum to move towards water sensitivity. Another challenge identified in the workshop is the lack of access to clean water and sanitation. According to the scoping study, an off-site sewerage system only covers around 3 per cent of the area in Jakarta. Poor wastewater and solid waste management leads to two major challenges: poor public health and inequality.

Results and achievements

For the people of Jabodetabek, a major challenge the government needs to tackle is degraded infrastructure, inadequate maintenance regimes and climatic pressures. The water-sensitive city can be described by three pillars of practice (Wong and Brown, 2009), which collectively enhance urban liveability, sustainability and resilience:

  • Cities as water supply catchments, in which all the available water resources within an urban footprint are considered valuable supply sources and infrastructure systems integrate both centralised and decentralised technologies to utilise these resources at different scales.
  • Cities providing ecosystem services, in which water infrastructure and the urban landscape are designed both functionally and aesthetically.
  • Cities with water-conscious citizens and communities, in which people appreciate the many values of water, feel connected to their local water environments and engage in water-conscious behaviour.

For Jabodetabek to leapfrog towards being a water-sensitive city requires the general principles to be translated to have specific meaning and relevance for its unique ecological, geographical, cultural and institutional context. When considered against the three pillars of a water-sensitive city, the workshop participants identified the following practices and visions required to achieve this:

  • While technological solutions are needed, most of the underpinning factors are largely focused around new methods of water governance that involve capacity building, equitable decision-making processes and increased collaboration among water managers and users.
  • Less-industrialised countries such as Indonesia provide more flexibility towards a solution as their infrastructure and institutions are not as established. This is why cities in industrialised countries are more well-placed to leapfrog directly to a sustainable urban water system.
  • The project identified key dimensions that will be important in developing further collaborative Australia-Indonesia programs for following these pathways to advance water-sensitive technologies and practices.