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By Stephanie Lim

Iswinarti (Above) is one of the 250 families in Bintan with a wastewater system, Safe Water Gardens (SWG), installed to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Iswinarti was relieved that her three children and herself no longer suffered from chronic diarrhea since the wastewater system, Safe Water Gardens (SWG), was installed half a year ago in her house in Kawal village, Bintan, Indonesia. Her relief stems from the worry that 370 children die every day from poor wastewater management in Indonesia [1].

Chronic diarrhea, often a result from poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), can lead to death in children [2]. Poor WASH is so prevalent among Indonesian households that diarrhea is the sixth leading cause of mortality in 2016 [3].

Negative ripple effects from living with contaminated water

Many toilets in lower-income households feature a traditional soak pit – a porous-walled chamber that allows water to leech into the ground. As it is not properly covered, it often overflows during rainy seasons and pathogens can spread and contaminate food and water. In addition, improperly treated water leeched from the soak pit pollutes neighbouring water wells as they share the same water table (upper surface of groundwater).

Ill health from poor water quality has ripple effects on the household, such as child mortality, strained financial resources from medical bills and lower school attendance, particularly for menstruating girls [4].

Safe Water Garden (SWG) is more than a wastewater management system

Installing SWG in a household costs under USD$300, similar to the cost of a soak pit. SWG not only manages wastewater, but also recycles the wastewater to nourish a garden (pictured below).

Basic schematic model of a Safe Water Garden (SWG) unit.

The plants in the garden help to absorb the nutrients from the wastewater, which could otherwise pollute groundwater or neighbouring wells. Households gain an additional source of food and spend less on healthcare, hence improving food security. Locals usually plant food staples such as bananas and chili (cabe rawit) and they are relatively easy to maintain.

(Above) Banana trees tower above houses in gardens nourished by SWGs.

(Above) Children play in gardens and neighbouring areas without fear of contamination.

The SWG team performs routine checks in each household to fine-tune the wastewater system. SWG is still in its pilot stages, but teething problems such as pipefitting can be resolved within an afternoon.

Homeowner Iswinarti and Dedi from the SWG team stand in her garden, in front of the improved SWG system, after a routine check.

Driving forces of improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Bintan, Indonesia

SWG is an initiative by LooLa Adventure Resort, run by co-founder Dr Marc van Loo and his team of locals. “Our hope is that every villager benefits from SWG and enjoys an autonomous sanitation system that is maintenance-free,” said Dr van Loo. “The challenge is convincing people at the grassroots level that this system benefits them, so that they will drive demand.”

(Above) Dr Marc van Loo, one of the founders of SWG, discussing a construction manual with his local staff, Conty.

Musim Mas recognizes that poor WASH affects everyone across villages, and has negative impacts on health, household income and education, among others. While clean water is already accessible to communities in our plantations, we believe we can do more for communities in neighbouring villages. Through Musim Mas’ sponsorship of SWG’s pilot project, we aim to improve access to safer water.

1 Palm Oil And Children In Indonesia: Exploring the sector’s impact on children’s rights. UNICEF, 2016.
2 Water, sanitation and hygiene interventions and the prevention of diarrhoea. World Health Organization (WHO), 2011.
3 Indonesia. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), n.d..
4 Palm Oil And Children In Indonesia: Exploring the sector’s impact on children’s rights. UNICEF, 2016.