Indonesia’s Effort Toward Integrated Water Resource Management and Climate Adaptation Hasn’t Had a Relevant Impact So Far

Rating C (Holding Steady)


The water supply and demand vary in Indonesia across several islands based on population density. The freshwater supply is abundant in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua islands, where the population is less. Conversely, the densely populated Java Island faces water scarcity due to low access to piped water and widespread pollution. Furthermore, the irrigation demand increases the water stress during dry seasons in the Java region. Irregular rainfall patterns and prolonged dry seasons have been triggered by extensive deforestation in the country. Deforestation driven by small-scale agriculture and the palm oil industry has also increased the flood risk and reduced the dam capacities over the last decade. According to the Fallen Mark Index for water stress, some research studies estimate that Java will experience absolute water scarcity (476 cu.m/person) by 2040.

Gold and coal mining activities in most provinces, especially in Jakarta, are responsible for contaminating surface water sources with mercury. Additionally, poor sanitation management, agricultural runoff, unregulated aquaculture, and industrial waste have further degraded the water quality causing eutrophication of lakes and rivers. The river Citarum, a major source of domestic water supply, is highly polluted from industrial waste and heavy metals. River pollution and prolonged dry periods not only affect the municipal water supply but also reduce the water availability for cropland irrigation and hydropower generation. During the 2019 drought, a state of emergency was declared for 75 sub-provincial administrative units in Java, Bali, and Nusa Tenggara.

Similarly, there is over-abstraction of groundwater, resulting in reduced spring flows and a decline in groundwater tables up to 50 meters in some locations. Along with groundwater abstraction for domestic use, tourism activities and land use change are the other major drivers for groundwater depletion.  Groundwater depletion has accelerated land subsidence, pushing several cities in Java to further sink by 1 to 15 centimeters every year. About half of Jakarta is below sea level and is presently protected by a large sea wall. Moreover, land subsidence and sea level rise have also caused saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, further depleting water quality and killing aquatic life. Saline groundwater has been found as far as 10km inland in some areas.

Climate change projections

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of droughts, exacerbating peatland and forest fires, particularly during El Nino years, while overall rainfall is decreasing in parts of East Java and the Lesser Sundas. It is also projected that monsoon rainfall intensity will increase flood risk. Over 600 of Indonesia’s rivers have high flood risk, and heavy rainfall events are predicted to increase by 15% within this century. The projected rate of sea level rise is predicted to range between 6 and 12mm/per year, increasing the number of people living below the high tide line by five to ten times the current levels and exposing tens of millions to storm surges.

Key laws, development plans, and their implementation.

The Water Resources Law (Law no 17) passed in 2019 requires the private sector to have licenses for water usage. It establishes central and regional government control and regulatory authority for water resources. The law regulates commercial, irrigation, and domestic water usage. The water management functions such as watershed conservation, groundwater management, environmental mitigation, and regulatory enforcement are distributed across 18 ministries, but the budget allocations are insufficient and unsynchronized. For example, surface and groundwater activities are not integrated, leading to inefficient use of available funding.

Moreover, provincial laws, regulations, and permission processes are frequently not enforced uniformly in districts, particularly regarding Integrated water resource management (IWRM) and palm oil expansion. Monitoring stations, data quality, and systems to consolidate data are lacking. In Jakarta, it is reported that unregistered groundwater abstractions are 50% percent more compared to registered groundwater abstractions.

The water resource policies outlined in the current National Medium-Term Development Plan 2020-2024 are designed to balance water conservation and utilization, upstream and downstream, surface and groundwater utilization, and water demand and supply. In addition, water-related policies are focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation, including coping with floods, droughts, and sea level rise. However, at present, the plan has delivered poor development outcomes. The successful implementation of the development plan requires synchronization of water management activities and collaboration between all the districts, ministries, and sectors. Maintaining continuity in monitoring water management activities and enabling community-wide participation in decision-making can further strengthen the water policy implementation. Designing target and performance-based indicators in that plan that can be comprehensively applied by public, private, and community institutions can help to accelerate water management activities.

The country’s effort toward integrated water resource management and climate adaptation has not had a relevant and measurable impact so far.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Indonesia Country Manager Netra Naik.


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