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Wetlands and Water – Inseparable and Vital for Life

  • Date:
    02 Feb 2021
  • Author:

Cimahi is the name of a city that was once part of the Bandung Regency, and since 2001 it has become a city of its own. Based on toponymy, Cimahi comes from two words in Sundanese; “Ci” which stands for “Cai” which means “Water” and the word “Mahi” which means “Enough”. Literally, Cimahi means “sufficient water” (in the sense of not lacking and not excess). Indeed, Cimahi, until the end of the 70s, was an area that was never short of water. Some neighboring houses had small pools in the yard with water that never stopped flowing. Maybe that’s why in ancient times, there was a place around Cimahi called “Leuwi Gajah” which is said to be a bathing place for elephants, or “Ranca Badak” which is a rhino swamp for bathing. Until the end of the 1970s, I was still able to enjoy tours on the small 5-hectare lake on the edge of Bandung, reportedly built by Mas Aksan, hence the name “Situ Aksan”.


But the wet story above then becomes a fond memory of the past. When I had to leave my hometown and look for a living in another city, family and friends in my hometown later reported that Cimahi was no longer having abundant water. It becomes a daily experience for people to lack water in the dry season, even sometimes there is not enough water for drinking. The spring in the neighbor’s house no longer produces water. On the other hand, during the rainy season, it became common for floods to submerge my house, which I rarely experienced while living in Cimahi.


It seems that Cimahi is not the only one experiencing the phenomenon of changing water availability and behavior. It’s just that this city gets attention because the name coincides with the history of how the water situation was in the past. Many things can be blamed for these changes, including the development of industries that uses a lot of raw water and the changes in the wetlands function. Wetlands were previously used as water storage but later turned into housing, industrial areas, or other uses that do not allow the functioning of water storage. According to the Bandung Basin Research Group and the Indonesian Geographical Society, no less than 18 areas in Bandung and its surroundings were previously wetlands (situ, swamp, ranca, leuwi) but now have changed their function to housing.


The relationship between the natural functions of wetlands and water availability and behavior conditions has become a serious concern worldwide. That is why the Ramsar Convention Secretariat based in Gland, Switzerland, has decided to establish “Wetlands and Water”, with the addition of “Wetlands and Water – inseparable and vital for life” as the theme of World Wetlands Day 2021 commemoration.


The Ramsar Convention is an international convention on wetlands signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran, on February 2, 1971. It is an international convention that agrees to protect wetlands, primarily those of international importance, especially as the habitat of waterbirds, has now been ratified by at least 133 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, America, and the Oceania region. Indonesia ratified the Ramsar Convention on October 19, 1991 through Presidential Decree (Keppres) No. 48 of 1991.


As an effort to continuously raise awareness about the critical role of wetlands for humans and the planet, since 1997, every February 2 is commemorated as World Wetlands Day. Specific themes are agreed to be carried out every year, adjusted to the situations related to wetlands globally. As mentioned above, for 2021, the theme highlighted is related to Wetlands and Water – Inseparable and Vital for Life.


Water is indeed vital for living things on this earth, because both its essence and environmental services are needed for the continuation of life for all creatures, especially humans. According to The United States Geological Water Science School, water covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface, where about 97% of all water on earth is in the form of oceans. In its release, the Ramsar Convention stated that only 2.5% of the water on earth is freshwater, mostly glaciers, ice caps, and water bodies below the ground surface.


Of the availability of freshwater, only 1% has so far been utilized, of which 0.3% is in the form of surface water in rivers and lakes. Meanwhile, of the 10 billion tonnes of water used every day, 70% is used to benefit food crops, and 22% is consumed for industrial and energy purposes. This number is estimated to have increased six times in 100 years and increased by 1% each year. Not surprisingly, with its limited availability while increasing demand, water was also a source of conflict in 45 countries in 1997.


“… Currently, no less than 2.1 billion people around the world are forced to use polluted water. Right now, no less than 25 million people are forced to flee due to disasters related to climate change, and water is the heart of climate change. Without water, food will also be challenging to obtain, and as water becomes increasingly difficult to get, women and children then have to spend more time looking for and bringing water. In fact, if only water could be obtained nearby, then the children could spend more of their time studying and gaining knowledge. Water can thus become a mechanism for change, which can be a destructive factor but can also be a unifying factor “, among others, the common thread conveyed in the Semarang City Water Resources Exploration Discussion, which was initiated by the Water as Leverage activity some time ago. In a statement issued in July 2020, the Global Commission on Adaptation – a group of influential people led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Kim Moon and Bill Gate – stated that 3 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, do not have adequate access to mere washing hands. UNICEF further noted that 41 million people, or 28% of Indonesia’s urban population, still have limitations in providing basic handwashing facilities in their homes.


The conditions in Indonesia are unfortunately no more encouraging. Referring to the Indonesia Country Water Assessment report issued by the ADB in 2016, water demand in Indonesia, which amounts to 175 billion cubics per year, can actually be met from water availability, which reaches 690 billion cubics per year. Kalimantan and Papua, which are inhabited by 13% of the population in Indonesia, provide about 70% of water resources. However, studies state that water storage capacity tends to decrease (until the 2014 period) compared to the increase in population. In addition, the quality of the waters in lakes and rivers is largely unsuitable for drinking.


Of the 44 major rivers in Indonesia, only four rivers have water quality that meets class II water quality standards (can be used for various activities such as recreation, irrigation, freshwater fish farming, and the livestock according to Government Regulation No. 82 of 2001). Likewise, for lakes, almost all of the 15 largest lakes are severely polluted. On the island of Java, which consumes more water than other islands, nearly 70% of water use is intended to meet irrigation and irrigation needs.


In comparison, only 9% is used for urban and industrial domestic needs. The demand for water for the needs of the industrial sector is even expected to increase from 20.1 m3/second in 2020 to 28.7 m3/second in 2030. Not to mention that the prediction of water resource needs for electricity generators is estimated to increase by 88% in 2030 compared to 2020.


With the global and national figures above, it is not surprising that water has been and will be the most crucial resource for human life and other living things. Immediate, simultaneous, and comprehensive action is needed to reduce the gloomy picture of water availability in the future, so that the essence and its environmental services can continue to be utilized fairly and sustainably. The Ramsar Convention suggests five steps that can be taken collectively:

  1. Stop destruction and start the restoration of wetlands.
  2. Do not weir rivers or overtake groundwater.
  3. Avoid pollution, clean up water sources.
  4. Increase efficiency in using water; use it wisely.
  5. Integrate water and wetlands into development plans and resource management.


Point number 5 regarding water use efficiency seems to be a step that each individual can take. Various studies show that humans tend to be wasteful in using water. A study on water use in a company shows that it takes 6.47-26.57 seconds for hand washing. From that time, it turns out that 1.33 – 18.43 seconds or 21 – 69% of the time the water is allowed to flow without actually being used for washing. If you look at the amount of water, it takes 79.44 liters of water to wash hands by seven employees (or 20,654.40 liters per year), and unfortunately, 47.61 liters of them are wasted every day (or 12,378.60 liters per year).


From a spiritual perspective, religion has actually taught its people to be economical in using water. Islam, for example, is very careful not to wastewater. Imam Ahmad has narrated in his Musnad, from the hadith ‘Abdillah bin’ Amr, that Rasulullah Sallallahu’ Alaihi wa Sallam passed Sa’ad who was doing ablution’, so he said, “Don’t overdo it!” so Sa’ad said, “O Messenger of Allah, is there an excess in the problem of water?” He said, “Yes, even though you are in a flowing river.” In another hadith, it is stated, “That the Prophet Sallallahu’ Alaihi wa Sallam used to perform ablution with one mud of water and bathe with 4 to 5 muds of water” (Narrated by Al Bukhari no. 201, Muslim no 325). The information states that 1 mud = 0.6875 liters of water.


In fact, today, the water used in ablution tends to be more than what is conveyed in the hadith. A study by taking a sample of 5 mosques in Yogyakarta shows that each Jamaah actually uses 3 – 3.5 liters/person with an average of 3.28 liters/person. Another study, which took a sample of 25 mosques in Palembang, also showed this trend, where the duration of time spent on ablution averaged 64.2 seconds with the use of an average water volume of 4.42 liters.


The commemoration of World Wetlands Day 2021 invites all individuals to take joint steps in conserving water. However, that is not enough. Therefore various sectors are also encouraged to use water wisely, and of course, maintain good wetlands and restore damaged wetlands. Wetlands and water are inseparable, both of which are very important for continuing human’s and other creatures’ lives on earth.


Author: Yus Rusila Noor, Head of Program, Wetlands International Indonesia Foundation