Anton Muhajir, Contributor, Denpasar | Thu, 10/23/2008 10:58 AM | Bali
It was a scorching hot day in Bal, a hamlet in Kubu, one of the poorest villages in Bali. The wind that swept past the village brought nothing but dry dust.
Seventeen-year-old Wayan Teken scooped water from a pond in front of his house with a pail. It was a shallow pond. The water was opaque in color and littered with dried leaves and other garbage. Teken, however, drank the water without hesitation.
“It’s a common thing (drinking such murky water) for us here,” he said. “There is no need to boil the water first.”
To the Kubu villagers,water is a rare commodity. Every time the island enters the dry season, the village suffers from prolonged drought period, usually lasting eight months.
“There hasn’t been any water springs in or around the village. Naturally, rain is our primary source of water,” 30-year-old I Wayan Wirya said.
The drought usually takes place from May until December. When the scarcity takes place, drinking water that has not been boiled becomes common practice in the village. But the villagers rarely suffer any health problems from the habit.
“Probably we have developed a specific immunity to those health problems, “Teken said with a wide grin on his face.
To cope with the recurring problem, each household in the village constructed a sember, a shallow pond to store water. The pond accommodates up to 5,000 liters of water. To fill one pond with water, each household spends up to Rp 70,000 (US$7) to purchase water. The cost is much higher, up to Rp 120,000, for households living in the desolate parts of the village.
“The price is high.Water is a very expensive commodity here. Therefore, we use our water supply very carefully,” Wirya told.
The villagers use the water stored in the sember for various things -taking showers, cooking, washing clothes and for their livestock.
In many cases, two or three households share one sember. Wirya’s household is one example of this case. The sember in front of Wirya’s house is the only water source for Wirya’s household, comprising of four people, and Wayan Darma’s household, comprising of 10 individuals. It means 5,000 liters of water has to be shared by a total of 14 people.
Consequently, they are extremely frugal when it comes to their water usage, only bathing once a day.
“And the allocated ration for baths is one bucket to four people,” Darma’s wife, Luh Reni said.
That hot afternoon, seven of Reni’s children were playing on the dusty ground. Their bodies were dirty and their hairs were uncombed. It seemed that they hadn’t bathed for several days.
The water scarcity further aggravates the poverty that has haunted the village for decades. The prolonged drought prevents the villagers from planting certain crops commanding higher prices.
On a plot of land they lease for Rp 2 million per year, Wirya and Darma can only grow cashew and enau (Arenga pinnata).The cashew plants rarely yield any nuts. The only source of income now for Darma and Wirya is the palm sugar made from liquid tapped from the enau trees.
Wirya makes a daily income of Rp 12,000. His daily needs, on the other hand, cost around Rp 30,000.
“I have no choice but to borrow money from a loan shark,”he said.
Today, Wirya said he had a standing debt of Rp 20 million to a loan shark.
Poverty is prevalent in the village. The houses of the villagers reflect this poverty. The houses are mostly constructed out of bamboo strips for their walls and dried grasses for their roofs. They have cemented floor.
When the villagers run out of money to purchase water, they must walk four kilometer to fetch water from the nearest water springs in the neighboring villages.
Kubu village chief I Nengah Arka said the government had carried out several programs to ease the village’s water scarcity problem.
A short-term program involves allocating Rp 11 million of the village’s budget to purchase water that later is distributed free of charge to the villagers.
A long-term program includes a construction of fixed pipe lines to channel water supply from Telaga Waja River to the village.
“But it’s still a dream at this moment.”