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Australian water utilities creating connections in Indonesia

Three Australian water authorities are making a difference to the lives of millions of Indonesians by sharing expertise and staff through a utility twinning program.

Despite being home to Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia is still striving to provide clean water and sanitation to its population of 264 million people.

With just 20% of Indonesians able to access a piped water connection and 45% of the country’s rivers categories as heavily polluted, the Indonesian Government is taking steps to address the problems, but much remains to be done.

The Australia-Indonesia Water Utility Improvement Program (WUIP), run by the Australian Water Association in partnership with the National Water Supply Association for Indonesia (PERPAMSI) and with support from the Australian Water Partnership (AWP), pairs an Australian water utility with an Indonesian counterpart to help address these challenges.

Beginning in March, it builds on the successful Australia-Vietnam WUIP, which has been running since 2016.

The matched utilities for the Indonesia program are: Yarra Valley Water and PDAM Kabupaten Gianyar; South Gippsland Water and PD PAL Jaya; and Unitywater and PDAM Surabaya.

The Indonesian utilities are currently on their first visit to Australia.

Promoting sustainable development

For Melbourne’s Yarra Valley Water (YVW), being involved in the WUIP was a logical step, given it was the first water utility in the world to commit to the United Nations’ Global Compact and the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

“We take a broad view of our role and consider we have a responsibility to contribute to making a positive difference on a global scale,” YVW Chief Financial Officer Natalie Foeng said.

“By being part of this program, YVW is able to contribute to the SDGs on a much broader scale, helping to advance equality and prosperity in another part of the world, particularly in SDG 5: Gender equality, SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation, and SDG 10: Reducing inequality.”

It’s not only the Indonesian utilities that benefit from the WUIP. Being partnered with an Indonesian water business is also an opportunity for Australian water professionals to develop their skills.

“This includes skills working across diverse cultures and social contexts, and bringing these into how we work with diversity in our own communities,” said South Gippsland Water Managing Director Philippe du Plessis.

“There is also pride in contributing to a program that makes a difference and creating new friendships and professional relationships across the Australian and Indonesian water sectors.”

Creating connections

Knowledge-sharing visits are key to the WUIP’s success, and travelling to Indonesia gives Australian utilities a greater understanding of the challenges faced by their twinned business.

Foeng said the YVW team’s first visit to Jakarta was a rewarding experience and an opportunity to get started on a WUIP action plan that covers technical issues as well as gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) – a key criteria that AWP supports its partners in implementing. 

“We have been able to have such rich conversations on the topic of GESI,” Foeng said.

“We learnt a lot about the GESI challenges and opportunities in Indonesia, and the similarities and differences to the challenges we face here in Australia. Our next steps will be to work with PDAM Gianyar on some small initiatives they can take to progress GESI and integrate it into one WUIP action plan.”

For Unitywater, sending staff on two delegations to Indonesia has helped the utility create a positive working relationship with its twin, PDAM Surya Sembada Kota Surabaya on the island of Java.

It has also been a chance for staff working in asset management, water quality, project engineering and organisational development to view the challenges firsthand.

“They have the very real challenge of delivering safe water to an enormous number of people, with infrastructure that was, in some areas, installed during the Dutch Colonial era,” Unitywater Asset Knowledge and Performance Manager Ivan Beirne said.

“There is also no sewerage system. We witnessed a water pipe repair where the break was under an open sewer channel and workers had to dive under in order to fix the pipe.”

Beirne said Unitywater will share its expertise in reducing non-revenue water, developing water safety plans and asset management.

Unitywater Project Engineer Sandrika Ryan travelled to Indonesia in September for the Indonesia Water and Wastewater Expo and Forum (IWWEF), where she attended a workshop about the WUIP.

“The immediate positive impact of our work was evident at the IWWEF in Jakarta and it sparked many thoughts for others to be part of the knowledge sharing,” she said.

“Particularly when the WUIP panel session turned into an open floor discussion, the Australian utilities were able to provide solutions to real problems happening this very minute in these Indonesian communities.”

To find out more about the AWA’s international programs, click here.