According to a representative from one massive brand of mineral water wrapped in single-use plastic, the idea behind producing packaged water in Indonesia was two-fold: 1. To provide safe drinking water for foreign visitors to Indonesia who were more susceptible to stomach complaints caused by contaminated water and 2. To save the under privileged from abject poverty by providing them with clean drinking water. The more serious of these diseases would have been cholera: still a problem world-wide for developing countries and even developed countries in times of natural disaster.
The “solution” from private mineral water companies would be filtration and then mass packaging: the smaller, the seemingly cheaper for the consumer.
Note that at this time in Indonesia it was still safe to drink water from many water sources in Indonesia, and that boiling water was still a viable option for those areas where water sources were known to be contaminated.
No doubt these serious diseases are not to be messed with, but we have to look at their source. In the 1970s few homes particularly in Bali and poorer islands had toilets, so the river was the most common option. It is highly likely that the culture of doing ones ablutions in the river would have led to human fecal contamination of water sources.
In hindsight, the proper solution would have been: 1. Installation of toilets in all houses across Indonesia with either the basic septic tanks system that exists now in most places or ideally a proper sewerage system (yes, even the Romans had one around 2,800 years ago); 2. Education about how to make water potable: using a basic stone or ceramic filter or boil water for a minimum of 10 minutes.
Instead, we had what? A few companies taking advantage of the people by selling them processed water from their motherland. Today Balinese are so addicted to single-use plastic and too scared to trust anything but packaged water: it is now officially ingrained in their culture. Ironically, Balinese think they are avoiding one health problem but are actually heading for something far more serious: contamination of one’s body, water sources, oceans, soil, salt, food, you name it from tiny fibres we call micro-plastics found not only in the environment as these packages are littered but also in a high percentage of the water itself.
Did you know that Bali in fact has an indigenous water filtration system that requires no plastic? More on this and other solutions in my next issue.
By Vaughan Hatch
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