Indonesia: UNICEF supports improved sanitation in the rebuilt homes of Aceh and Nias

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Anna Stechert

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 9 May 2007 - Ibu Nuria is not happy. Even though she likes her newly built house in Klieng Cot Arun village, Banda Aceh, the facilities are incomplete. "There is no drainage system in place," she says. "It concerns us."

Across the street, members of another family are digging their own well because they are not yet connected to a water distribution system. The well is only 5 metres from their septic tank, even though it should be at least 15 metres away.

The septic tanks in the village are not sealed and do not have any secondary treatment of waste water. They are constructed poorly and leak, allowing human waste to soak into the groundwater - which then contaminates the water in the wells.

Meeting national standards

The homes of almost 200,000 families were damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes and tsunami that struck this coastal region in December 2004. Since then, more than 50,000 new houses have been built in Aceh and Nias.

Given the enormity of the rebuilding task in the tsunami's aftermath, the focus was on speedy construction. Sanitation was often given minor attention, with only simple, interim solutions provided.

Consequently, long-term, sustainable sanitation systems that comply with Indonesian national standards still must be implemented in thousands of housing projects - and implemented immediately - to avoid large-scale health and environmental problems.

Conditions pose health risks

According to the Indonesian Government's Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR), another 50,000 to 70,000 houses will be built in the next two years in tsunami-affected areas here. Another 80,000 or so will have been repaired before the end of 2009.

As early as 2005, the government instructed all housing construction agencies that they were responsible for onsite water and sanitation on their projects. Still, assessments show that many houses have non-existent or inadequate sanitation facilities.

The problems include unsealed septic tanks and lack of secondary treatment from the septic tank outflow - which allows foul water to flow directly into open drains. These conditions can pose a risk to human health, and many houses remain empty because people refuse to move in.

Seminar on improving sanitation

In February, BRR joined UNICEF and other partners - including Public Works, GTZ, Oxfam, IFRC and the USAID-ESP project - at a comprehensive two-day seminar to develop better guidelines for housing sanitation. More than 300 representatives of at least 50 housing agencies and almost 100 local government officials participated.

Guest speakers from the National Ministries of Health, Public Works and Environment, and from the National Taskforce on Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation, provided useful insights. Then the participants divided into three groups (on septic tanks, secondary waste treatment and community management) to discuss possible solutions.

The groups made the following recommendations:

- All septic tanks should be watertight

- Secondary treatment of waste water should be a requirement for all of the sanitation systems in homes built in Aceh and Nias

- Because local communities do not necessarily understand all the benefits of sanitation, there is a need to promote health and hygiene information as appropriate sanitation technologies are introduced.

Seminar participants agreed as well as on the need for participatory monitoring and evaluation of housing sanitation by government authorities and the communities themselves.

Challenge of enforcement

As a first step, the recommendations from the February seminar are being presented to officials and decision-makers; they form the basis of a specific proposal for implementing sustainable sanitation in the reconstruction of Aceh and Nias. UNICEF will provide BRR with funding, experts and equipment to help monitor the sanitation systems that are adopted.

The head of Provincial Public Works in Aceh has also announced that the recommendations from the seminar will be considered in the drafting of a binding local law to set sanitation standards for home construction.

The major challenge ahead will be enforcement of those guidelines.

"At least the agencies know their responsibilities now," said UNICEF's Water and Sanitation Project Officer in Banda Aceh, Dara Johnston. "But it is crucial for the community to be aware of what they are entitled to, and to be involved in monitoring the implementation of housing standards."