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The Indonesia Urban Sanitation Development Program: A Brief Description and Observations from the Field

Published on: 02/09/2014

I've just come back from a brief trip to Indonesia to learn from the Urban Sanitation Development Program (USDP), arguably one of the most interesting programs out there for those interested in large-scale change in urban sanitation. In a series of three blogposts, I will discuss this program, its major achievements and some of the challenges it faces. This first blogpost provides an introduction to the program and some observations from the field.

The USDP is the successor of the Indonesia Sanitation Sector Development Program (ISSDP; 2006-2010). It provides support to the Indonesian national programme on urban sanitation, the Program Percepatan Pembangunan Sanitasi Permukiman (PPSP/ Road Map for Acceleration of Urban Sanitation Development). The USDP is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jakarta and the consortium is led by Royal HaskoningDHV with a contribution from IRC.

The USDP program
The program assists city municipalities (kota) and local governments of Districts (Kabupaten) municipalities throughout Indonesia to plan for sanitation through the development of City Sanitation Strategies (Strategi Sanitasi Kota; SSK). By mid-2012, 240 cities (of the 506) had prepared SSKs, and 445 local governments are expected to complete them by 2014. The process in which the municipalities engage is led by a pokja (working group) with representative members from various municipal departments such as the planning, public works, environment, education and health department. To develop a citywide sanitation strategy, the pokja first carries out a series of assessment studies which include: 1) an analysis of available secondary data; 2) primary data collection which leads to an Environmental Health Risk Assessment (EHRA); and 3) an assessment of the perceptions of various municipal professionals such as the pokja members. These three data sources lead to a Sanitation White Book (Buku Putih Sanitasi) which forms the basis for the SSK. To carry out these various assessments, the municipalities receive the assistance of a city facilitator, who is trained at the national level. There is also a pokja present for each province and one at the national level. The USDP consists of teams present at each of the four involved ministries (Public Works, Planning, Health and Home Affairs). Since 2012, USDP engaged various numbers of Provincial Sanitation Development Advisors (Prosda) mainly tasked with providing support to the provincial pokjas. Each Prosda is stationed in the provinces and covers 3 to 5 (neighbouring) provinces. IRC's contribution to the USDP has been to refine and simplify the methodology for the EHRA into an assessment which is more cost-effective and less time-consuming, making it easier to work with at the local level.

During my visit to Indonesia I attended meetings between USDP staff working at the Ministry of Health (Environmental Health Directorate) and the municipalities of Cimahi (West-Java) and Lhokseumawe (Aceh). I've also attended some meetings at the Aceh province level where various municipalities from the region presented their sanitation strategies to the province pokja, provincial facilitators and USDP staff. The cases of Cimahi and Lhokseumawe differ on a variety of issues; I believe that these contrasts allow for a very interesting comparison.

Meeting at Planning Department of Aceh Province

A tale of two cities

The city of Cimahi, an industrial town near Bangdung in West-Java, of approximately 500 000 inhabitants; it is one of the 'success stories' of the PPSP/USPD. The former mayor of Cimahi has made sanitation a top policy priority, and the current mayor (the wife of the ex-mayor) has continued these commitments towards sanitation. Cimahi's budget allocation to sanitation is impressive to say the least, as sanitation has grown from a 2% share in 2012 to 5-6% in 2014 (Rp 18bn to Rp 53bn, or €1,2mln to €3,5mln). The fiscal plans for 2015 will see a further rise to Rp 100bn (€6,7mln) for the combined expenditure of sanitation; this includes the three subsectors of waste water, solid waste and drainage. But the budget allocations were not the only aspects which positively surprised me. It became clear from the discussion with the pokja members that the formulation of plans was based on the consultation with the users, and that there truly was an interdepartmental collaboration between Planning, Public Works and Health. The pokja enjoys the full support of the mayor, leading to a more focussed effort of its members which would otherwise have to fit sanitation within their other work priorities. Another aspect which struck me was the level of female leadership and participation in the meeting, as well as the local commitment shown by the brief appearance of two of the heads of department (both female) in our meeting. Nevertheless, Cimahi still faces a number of challenges, which the pokja members fully recognised. These challenges revolve around the implementation of the SSK. As outlined in this document, a number of communal septic tanks (see the second blogpost of this series on this particular choice of technology and its implications) and treatment facilities will be built, but as described by the pokja representative from the Public Works Department, the availability of land for constructing these septic tanks will be a major issue. A brief walk through a densely populated neighbourhood also made me wonder on how these septic tanks will be emptied in the narrow lanes and whether the residents were disposed to pay for their connections and the emptying services.

A complete different state of affairs can be found in the city of Lhokseumawe, which unfortunately I did not manage to visit but only had discussions with its pokja in Banda Aceh. Lhokseumawe is a coastal town of less than 200 000 inhabitants, located in the Northern part of the island of Sumatra. Like many areas of Aceh, it faced widespread destruction from the 2004 tsunami and was subsequently flooded with rehabilitation and reconstruction aid finance flowing in from all over the world. A completely new wastewater treatment plant blindly financed by the Islamic Development Bank is now left completely unused without any staff present to operate or maintain it. In fact, the treatment plant never received the required flow needed to function properly, as much of the wastewater is directly disposed of in open drains; this casts a large doubt on the quality of the bank's feasibility studies. The Lhokseumawe pokja also described how they are constantly battling within their municipality for the recognition of sanitation on the political agenda. For instance, the budget for behaviour change campaigns was simply scrapped by the finance department, and the previous head of the health department was not pleased with the program as this would conflict with his vested interests as the owner of a local hospital. The coastal nature of the town also provides technical challenges, as high water tables make the construction of septic tanks an undesirable option. These technical challenges can be overcome but then there is a need to think outside of pre-determined technological solutions like a septic tank.

Capacity challenges 

The issue of lack of available capacities to effectively plan for sanitation improvements and to defend these plans within the local governments was an issue that repeatedly came forward during the meeting at the Aceh provincial planning department. Many of the pokja members are working on issues that they had never been trained in and pokja members are regularly replaced resulting in a situation where institutional knowledge is constantly being lost. The city facilitators, those appointed to assist the pokja, also often lack the knowledge and capacities to effectively bring about change. These city facilitators are appointed for one year by the provincial representative (Office of the Satker) of the Ministry of Public Works' Sanitation Development Department (PU PPLP) and receive a one-week training at the national level. Unfortunately, as I've come to understand, there are a variety of issues preventing many of these facilitators from functioning properly. A large part of them are fresh graduates which lack any experience for which a training of one week is not enough. Another part are not actually interested in sanitation, but have gained the position through nepotism.

Most wastewater is being discharged in open drains

Looking forward

Overall, this visit left me with mixed feelings. The vast scale of the program and the momentum it has created are exciting to say the least. I am not aware of any other program of this scale and ambition. I also found the high level of professional qualities of the USDP staff at central and provincial level to be highly inspiring. However, at the municipal level there is still a lot of work to be carried out. As more and more cities (and Districts) involved in the program head towards the implementation phase, it will become clear that it is the quality of the planning and budgeting of programs and activities based on a solid strategy framed in the SSKs that counts. Despite the impressive amount of cities and Districts involved in the PPSP, it is clear that this program's success cannot be measured by the number of cities that have prepared a sanitation strategy. The proof of the pudding will be how much of the outlined plans will actually be implemented. The following blogposts in this series will further elaborate on the USDP as I discuss some of its challenges and possible approaches on how to take these forward.

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