Sanitation MDG in Indonesia—The Numbers Game

On January 19, WSP (as the chair of the group of sanitation donors) together with UNICEF, hosted a discussion on the sanitation MDG - Counting Toilets or Measuring Access to Basic Sanitation in Jakarta. The discussion was an opportunity for water and sanitation practitioners in Indonesia compare various monitoring techniques and their comparative advantages.
The guest speaker for the discussion, Rolf Luyendijk, is the Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist for Water and Sanitation in UNICEF, he is responsible for updating the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) data on water supply and sanitation. Mr. Luyendijk provided a short introduction to the JMP methodology, this methodology is used to generate country coverage estimates and compare international JMP monitoring and access estimates with national monitoring and coverage estimates. The discussion centered on the definition of JMP indicators, the reliance on national household sample surveys and national censuses, and how JMP validates and ensures comparability of data across surveys and countries.
Further discussion was triggered by differences between the latest JMP data (published in 2008) and the UNDP/National Planning Development Agency (Bappenas) report Lets Speak Out for MDGs (Nov. 2007).  The JMP data shows slow progress towards the sanitation MDG target in Indonesia and a high likelihood of not meeting the target, while the UNDP/National Planning Development Agency (Bappenas) report states that Indonesia has already achieved its sanitation MDG target. Mr. Luyendijk explained that the discrepancies can be largely explained by using a different definition of access. For example, the Indonesian household survey SUSENAS has a category called "pit/hole", without providing further information on whether these facilities are an improved facility as per JMP definition. In cases of unclear definitions, JMP applies a standard rule of counting 50% of the facilities as improved. In addition, the two surveys took two different baselines; the national survey used data from a SUSENAS survey in 1992-1994 to establish a baseline, which was significantly lower than the findings of the DHS 1991 and 1994 surveys used to determine the baseline in the JMP.  For example, the SUSENAS 1992 data shows 19.1% improved sanitation access in rural areas while the DHS 1991 survey shows 44.6%.  The lower baseline results in lower and more achievable MDG target for 2015.
Although the discussion was informative and generated a lot of interest, the issue of whether the sanitation MDG has been achieved is secondary when looking at absolute numbers. While a significant number of people have gained access to basic sanitation since 1990, over 94 million Indonesians still do not have sanitary toilets. In fact, the percentage of people practicing open defecation has not changed substantially over the last two decades, with about 18% in urban and over 40% in rural areas still defecating in the open. Taking into account the population growth, this translates into more people being forced to practice open defecation every day.  The lack of access to sanitation should be a top priority of the Government as well as donors in addressing sanitation needs in Indonesia.
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Almud Weitz, Isabel Blackett
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