WORLD WATER DAY 2021:
COVID-19 AND NEGLECTION OF CITIZEN’S RIGHTS
ON CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION
Since it was decided at the United Nations Conference regarding Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, March 22 has been always commemorated as World Water Day. This commemoration is an annual celebration of the United Nations (UN) which focuses on promoting the importance of water conservation. Moreover, this is an important momentum to raise awareness of the global water crisis and also support the achievement of the 6th Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs): Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
This international commitment was also strengthened through Resolution 64/292. The UN General Assembly on July 28, 2010 explicitly acknowledged that the right to clean water and sanitation is highly important to realize all human rights. The resolution called out countries and international organizations for 3 (three) things. Firstly, to provide financial resources. Secondly, to assisti capacity building and technology transfer to assist countries, particularly developing countries. Thirdly, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
World Water Day March 22, 2021 which raised the theme of Valuing Water or “menghargai air” is similar with the previous year: commemorated in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The need for clean water at this time is increasingly urgent. Along with the urge and call of the national authorities (government), clean water has become an essential tool of health protocols of virus spread prevention, such as for washing hands in high frequency. This is not an easy matter, especially for people who experience clean water scarcity. However, in fact every year, the facts of issues regarding the fulfilment of the right to water and sanitation continue to emerge.
The quality of river water in Indonesia continues to degenerate. This is showed by the increasing percentage of heavily polluted rivers from year to year based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) 2019. On the website of LOKADATA, it is stated that the primary cause of pollution that occurs in rivers passing through villages is industrial activities.
We can see the reality of oil palm labour condition in Arso Timur, Keerom Regency, Papua. The workers who live in the housing of the plantation area only rely on well water provided by the company and a reservoir in the middle of the oil palm plantation with the implementation of an open and close irrigation system in order to stream water from the surrounding rivers. As a result, during the drought/dry season, water becomes a major problem since the wells and irrigation systems will not work at all. To overcome water scarcity, plantation workers rely on the reservoir located quite far away. The reservoir water is very cloudy and filled with dry leaves and mosquito larvae, even though it is used for bathing, washing, and going to toilets (MCK). The water flow is indeed only drawn with a normal water pipe without a filter and a water pulling machine is used to increase the water pressure so that it can flow to the workers’ houses/barracks. Meanwhile, for the drinking and cooking needs, workers’ families rely on the well as their only source of drinking water, in which the distance is approximately two hundred meters away and is reached on foot (ELSAM, 2020).
Similar thing is happening in the oil palm plantation area in Sorong Regency, West Papua. The women of the indigenous people of Moi Klamono are forced to travel long distances only to access clean water. This is because the water sources in the plantation area have been polluted by waste from the use of toxic chemicals in the plantation operations.
Community concerns about the scarcity of clean water are also experienced by communities in Sambas and Ketapang Regencies, West Kalimantan. The people in these two regencies complain about the water pollution in their rivers and water sources due to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides in the plantations as well as the waste of palm oil from crude palm oil processing that goes into the river. This thing has an impact on water pollution and the decrease in the number of fish every year.
Sawit Watch noted that until 2020 there were 72 communities had conflicts with oil palm plantations for environmental damage issues. Oil palm plantations do not only cause a decrease of clean water quality. In a more severe context, the presence of oil palm plantations is also able to cause the loss (drying up) of small rivers or streams in an area around the plantation. If this happens, it will give an impact on the loss of culture and local wisdom of the indigenous community or local community who have tradituonally used and managed water in the area.
ECOTON (2018), in the data collection of pesticides and fertilizers, found 5 (five) active agents of pesticide, 4 (four) of which were very toxic and 9 types of fertilizers which contain heavy metals that were harmful to human health and environment. Fertilizers and pesticides pollute rivers through practices that do not comply with procedures and regulations, such as: changing the size of sprayers, fertilizing carelessly, and planting oil palms on riverbanks.
Not only does it poison the environment, exposure to pesticides and fertilizers also poisons the spraying and fertilizing workers, in which the majority are women. The exposure when working is caused by not using complete personal protective equipment (APD). This happens because it is not provided by the plantation or lack of information on the health impacts of exposure to these toxic compounds. This condition is still worsened by the unavailability of clean water for workers to clean up/decontaminate after work. In an extreme case, such as experienced by the plantation workers in East Kalimantan, the canal/river water is polluted for daily needs including drinking water.
Water itself also turns into a disaster for humans who do not protect the environment or the forest. The case of Flash Flood in March 2019 in Jayapura Regency which took a toll of hundreds of lives was the proof. Flood also occurred to Yerisiam community, Nabire Regency, Papua in 2016. This was caused by extensive deforestation for oil palm companies.
Various facts above show the practice of workers’ right neglection, one of which was the lack of adequate clean water for workers. Clean water is an important basic need for workers/laborers. The unavailability of clean water in the barracks for laborers/workers forced them to think about getting clean water for cooking or bathing purposes. Very often, they collected rainwater or go to rivers. Not to mention the condition of Covid-19 pandemic which has increased vulnerability and given a specific and serious threat to the fulfilment of labor rights to clean water and sanitation. On the other hand, the practice code for safety and health on plantations regarding the process of decontamination of toxic materials and the availability of safe clean water, as required by ILO, in practice was not implemented properly.
KRuHA noted that violation of the Right to Water due to the extraordinary expansion which continuously done by extractive industries such as palm oil was at least at five levels of water deprivation and water ecosystems, namely: Firstly, the mass devastation of water sources in the upstream due to forest clearing for plantations, as a result thousands of watersheds died from it; Secondly, pollution of communities’ water sources, either by fertilizers, poor waste treatment, or by materials contained in natural resources unloaded during the extraction process; Thirdly, the drying of communities’ water sources around industrial areas due to the high consumption of water in every production process – from the plantations to the processing at the factories; Fourthly, land clearing for extractive industries such as oil palm plantations, which has reduced the land capacity to absorb rainwater and often caused flooding in surrounding areas; Fifthly, water appropriation which even was located far outside the oil palm industrial area, for example the increase in demand and supply of bottled drinking water in oil palm production areas due to a lack of potable water in that area.
Furthermore, based on General Comment No. 15: The Right to Water, Environmental cleanliness as an aspect of the right to health according to article 12, paragraph 2 (b). The Covenant includes taking non-discriminatory steps to prevent threats to health from unsafe and toxic water conditions. Therefore, States Parties must ensure that natural water resources are protected from harmful substance and pathogenic microbe contamination. Similarly, States Parties must monitor and fight against water ecosystem situation functioned as disease vector habitats wherever they pose a risk to the human environment.
From this situation, along with the momentum of World Water Day 2021, the civil society coalition encourages the Government of Indonesia to be more serious in ensuring the fulfilment of the right to clean water and sanitation for its citizens through legal reform. The existence of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) needs to be actualized properly. This is because these principles have emphasized the company’s responsibility in respecting human rights, including the right to water and sanitation. Hence, companies should be able to ensure policies on the right to water and sanitation, to identify, to prevent and to make an effort to recover if there have been impacts on human rights.
Jakarta, March 22, 2021
ELSAM – ECOTON – GEMAWAN – The Coalition of Oil Palm Workers (KBS) – SAWIT WATCH – YADUPA – SKPKC Fransiscan Papua – PAPUAN VOICES – KRuHA – Far East Mimika Community Care Institute (LEPEMAWI) – GempaR-Papua
For further information, please contact:
Busyrol Fuad (ELSAM) 085655004863
Sigit K. Budiono (KRuHA) 081318835393
Riska Darwamati (ECOTON) 081252031456
Hady Saputra (Sawit Watch) 082154574142
Yuliana Langowuyo (SKPKC Fransiscan Papua) 082199668664
Rut Ohoiwutun (YADUPA) 082239625793