1. Introduction: The Growth of Packaged Drinking Water Supply
In 2008, packaged drinking water (PDW) became the drinking water supply for the majority of residents in the Indonesian capital city district of Jakarta [1
]. Since then, reliance on PDW for safe water supply has increased, so that in 2017, 72% of households reported drinking PDW, 15% drink groundwater, and 14% drink piped water [2
]. Although Jakarta surpasses national trends in the consumption of PDW, consumption of PDW for all of Indonesia has grown at more than 12% annually over 2009–2014 [3
], is used by more than 40% of the country’s urban residents, and an increasing number of low-income residents [4
]. This has led the World Bank to identify the rise in PDW consumption as the defining trend of the Indonesian water sector over the last 15 years, making the statement that although more households in Indonesia now have access to piped water, they are not drinking it, especially in cities [4
] (p. 14).
The rise in consumption of PDW by lower income residents of Indonesia’s cities illustrates global water and development trends, where the growth of PDW as a source of drinking water supply is documented in cities where improved water sources from the tap or the ground have never met drinking water quality standards or been universally accessible. Despite the emergence of PDW in the urban water landscapes of what the International Bottled Water Association terms “developing economies” over the last decade [5
], the study of PDW as a form of water supply is only recent. Most social science studies of PDW explain this phenomenon as a commercial product, a luxury, and a source of waste—not as a source of supply [6
]. Where PDW is studied as a water supply, largely in contexts where access to improved sources is not universal, or safe for drinking, research is overwhelmingly focused on the water quality of this supply [10
]. Research on PDW quality has increased awareness of the role of PDW as a source of water supply in contexts where the majority of the world’s urban residents live—cities where piped water is not universally accessible, or safe for drinking without prior point of use treatment [11
]—and have reinforced the importance of water quality as a dimension of equitable water access [12
However, as we go on to argue, the explanatory frameworks used in the disciplines conducting the vast majority of research on PDW supply are only able to provide a partial, and what we identify as a-political, understanding of PDW. This, we contend, conceals how PDW supply might redress or reproduce the unevenness of water access or water related risks. We explain this analytical gap as the result of the dominant approach to understanding PDW supply through an analysis of the individual making “choices” for PDW supply, disconnected from the wider societal processes and social relations shaping choices. We argue this power neutral analysis delimits understanding of how PDW supply relates to urban water inequalities to what can be identified through the individual (affordability, health impacts), and therefore addressed through the individual (improving choices). Alternatively, it acknowledges—and then closes off for investigation—the identification of power relations and societal processes shaping individual choices in what are termed “governance failure”, or “gaps in service provision’”. As a result, the current dominant understandings of PDW supply do little to acknowledge the politics of PDW supply—what uneven power relations it responds to, and what this means for reproduction or contestation of these inequalities. Here is where we suggest a (re)theorizing of PDW supply can benefit from a situated Urban Political Ecology (UPE) analysis. This approach holds power relations as central to explain how and why urban residents live in vastly unequal conditions—with differential access to water and exposure to environmental hazards—and what this means for the unevenness of choices on how to secure safe drinking water. Towards this, we build on recent calls for a situated UPE analysis of the politics of urban water, decentering the piped network as an object through which to analyze both how power shapes distributions of water, and as an axis upon which inequalities are defined [14
We develop these arguments for why it is important to understand PDW supply through an analysis of the wider politics of urban water distributions through the case of Jakarta, Indonesia. We take Jakarta as an example of one of many cities where access to piped water has never been universal or safe, and the consumer choice for PDW is not one made between tap and bottle, but between a variety of sources and providers. We anchor our analysis of the conceptual and practical limitations of understanding PDW supply through frameworks of individual choice in existing practices of household water supply—how PDW supply is used, by whom, and in what combinations with other flows of water in the city. Our documentation of these practices draws on empirical data collected in Jakarta over different periods from 2014–2017, and includes household water supply surveys, PDW consumer surveys, interviews with key informants in national and provincial government agencies, and international development partners. Our identification of the politics of choices for securing safe water concealed by dominant explanations for PDW supply is supported by empirical data collected over this period, but is also informed by our previous research on the politics of water supply in the city [14
2. Situating Explanations of PDW Supply
In this section, we review the current research on PDW in cities where PDW exists within a variegated water provisioning landscape. We document how PDW has been studied as a consumer product, and as a form of supply, in order to discuss how a situated UPE analysis of urban water distributions enables a (re)theorization of the politics of this supply.
Much of what is known about PDW in cities where the universal provision of drinking water from the tap has never been the norm is through the study of PDW as a consumer product, rather than a form of supply. Consumer research reports assess the contours of the PDW market in various regions to establish who the individual consumers are, what type of water they consume, and how much—in the Philippines [20
], Indonesia [3
], Jordan and Lebanon [22
], and globally [5
]. Reports on the shift of the global market for PDW to lower- and middle-income countries mirror the documentation of demographic trends, noting rise in household consumption of PDW in water and development sector reports, such as in Indonesia [4
], Mexico [24
], and Lao [25
Understanding PDW as a consumer product uses consumer analyses to explain the rise in PDW consumption in these countries. Here, analysis of the influence of advertising and marketing strategies on individual perceptions of water quality [26
] mirrors the approach to understanding PDW in the west, where historically, universal provision of water has meant PDW is not understood as a form of supply, but as a consumer product. In her 2017 review on bottled water research, Hawkins identifies the question dominating research globally on bottled water as “why consumers choose PDW over piped water” [27
] (p. 3). She also notes that answers to this question have been concentrated in disciplines of business studies and psychology, investigating how marketing strategies have contributed to this expansion of a product which could be had for “free” from the tap [22
Findings from consumer reports in “emerging economies” have explained consumption—or choices—of individuals for PDW in relation to a range of individual level factors. However, interestingly, the significance of income level in predicting consumption patterns is not conclusive. For Jakarta, this has set up certain paradoxes, as the poorest residents of a city are amongst those who “choose” the highest per unit volume source of water [19
]. Consumer studies show that income level is not the most important or key individual factor shaping choices for PDW in Jakarta [32
], Manila [20
], Bandung [33
], and Accra [34
]. These results challenge the understanding of PDW as a result of consumer habits driven by rising income of a growing middle class [23
]. Explaining what then drives consumption of PDW, if not income, has led to an even more detailed focus on the individual consumer to explain PDW supply. Stoler documents a growing evidence base of micro-consumer studies for West Africa, where an increased specification of who is consuming explains what are identified as “choices” in drinking water as a “budding evidence base regarding microeconomic consumer trends that have helped us better understand who drinks sachet water, where, and what individual level factors shape their choices” [12
] (p. 4).
The shift from understanding PDW as a consumer product, to one of understanding PDW as a form of supply, has been largely driven by public health research. Like consumer analyses, public health research has overwhelmingly focused on the water quality of PDW, but quality is used to analyze impact of consumption on health of individuals, rather than the influence of advertising or marketing. This early focus of public health researchers on PDW was driven by concerns over health implications. In many cities where PDW is consumed across income levels, there are variations in quality within an essentially self-regulating domestic PDW market. Stoler highlights variations in quality for sachet water in Accra [13
]; Sharma and Bhaduri flag that contamination events are under-reported in Delhi [10
]; and online media documents contamination events are still occurring in Indonesian cities [35
]. However, over the years, as general conclusions seem to be that quality of PDW is improving through self-regulation of the domestic industry (for Indonesia, see World Bank, 2015 [4
]; for West Africa, see Stoler (2017) [12
], public health research has highlighted the significance of PDW as form of supply in contexts where it is of superior quality to other “improved” sources. A recent systematic review of global research on PDW water safety concluded PDW products are substantially less likely to be contaminated than alternative water sources for consumption, including piped water [36
]. Public health scholars have also documented better quality of PDW in comparison to other point-of-use treatment options (boiling, ceramic, solar disinfection), which are, for variety of reasons, not adopted, or not applied correctly [37
This focus on the quality of PDW supply and health impacts has shown how choices for safe drinking water are both more limited, and more heterogeneous, in cities where there has never been universal access to safe drinking water. As there is no “choice” to make between drinking water from the tap or drinking PDW—because tap water is either not accessible, or not safe for drinking—it is thus problematic to understand PDW only as a consumer product. However, although public health research has shown how choices of individuals are influenced by the contexts in which they are made—what other options are available, and to whom—it can do little to analyze how the unevenness of these contexts, and the choices made in them, are shaped by power relations. Public health, like consumer studies, focuses on the individual to explain choices, and subsequent health outcomes—choices of how to secure safe water are understood through an analysis of the individual’s knowledge of disease transmission, attitudes, and hygiene practices. In Indonesia, Nastiti et al. (2017) identify choices of low-income households for PDW supply as a health risk aversion strategy informed by individual level, rather than societal, factors [33
]. In Accra, Ghana, public health research, which aimed to understand PDW supply through analysis of both individual and community level factors, still rooted its four hypotheses explaining choices for PDW in the analysis of the individual: demographics, water knowledge, attitudes, and other individual level factors [34
This also means that the understanding of PDW supply generated by public health research is power neutral, or what we identify as a-political. As choices for how to secure safe drinking water are understood through the analysis of the individual, they remain disconnected from wider societal processes or social relations. While public health is unable to ignore the limited options for safe drinking water, given their own research results, they are unable to interrogate the unevenness of choices, or impacts of choices, beyond a frequent reference to the “gap” in provision of piped water. This “gap in service provision” is what both public health researchers and consumer studies often default to for explanations of limited choices [12
]. For consumer analyses, these gaps in service provision are included through the analysis of the individual—how PDW responds to consumer preferences for water quality, convenience, or perceptions of affordability [32
]. For public health, societal inequalities are observed through the individual level factors shaping consumption, such as distance to improved water source. Explanations of gaps in service provision are often limited to the concept of governance failure [12
]. This explanation tends to be power neutral, as gaps are seen as the inability of government to provide potable water to all, rather than any particular exclusions or inequalities in access shaped by power relations (exception: [34
]). Conclusions tend to identify good governance as a remedy for “gaps in service provision” correcting the “missed opportunities” [12
] (p. 2), rather than acknowledging how distributions of water to one place comes at the expense of reduced quantity and quality for other places.
Here is where UPE analysis of urban water distributions can contribute to understanding of PDW supply, offering analytical tools to build on existing understandings of PDW supply based on analysis of the individual. Specifically, it can attend to how “gaps” in provision—and thus responses to these gaps—are produced by uneven social relations and societal processes beyond the individual. Documenting the heterogeneity of water supply and infrastructure, UPE researchers point out that heterogeneity is not neutral. For example, research in Lilongwe [39
] documents how differences in water quality provided by the piped network are shaped by the social relations through which maintenance practices occur, so that lower income areas of the city have poorer quality of piped water. Recognizing the unevenness of conditions in which choices for how to secure safe drinking water are made indicates these social relations are not power neutral—they reflect power differences. How this unevenness is produced demands grappling with questions of power and politics, and connects PDW supply to broader politics of urban water supply. A UPE approach to understanding PDW supply thus calls attention to how “choices” are shaped by the relations of power, producing uneven existing distributions of both water and water related risk across the city.
The limitations of an approach to understanding PDW supply through water quality or the individual have been noted before, but represent a very small sample of the research contributing to our understanding of PDW supply. In 2014, Sharma and Bhaduri showed how notions of purity (suspicion of tap water quality) or scarcity (gaps in service provision), cited by individuals as reasons for PDW use in Delhi, are shaped by broader sets of social relations [10
]. They conclude that understanding PDW supply requires a more nuanced analysis [10
] (p. 6) of the societal processes creating different conditions across the city. This observation has also been made for understanding PDW supply in Accra, as Morinville (2017) calls for discussions of sachet water in Accra to acknowledge the deeply political nature of water access in Accra, and uses a UPE analysis to show how choices of individuals are shaped by the different geographies of water access [41
We agree with these previous observations of the politics of PDW supply, while noting the importance of situating analyses of the politics of urban water distributions, within which PDW is inserted [16
]. While choices for PDW supply are shaped by the uneven social relations producing heterogeneous piped water service delivery [41
], they are also shaped by flows of water and power not contained by infrastructure. For Jakarta, as we turn to document, situating analysis of urban water politics entails recognizing how connections between power and groundwater and piped water create uneven geographies of urban risk [14
], and generates different kinds of choices by individuals on how to secure safe drinking water.
3. Research Design
We anchor our call to (re)theorize the politics of PDW supply within the existing water supply practices of low income households in Jakarta. Our analysis of how PDW is used, by whom, and in what combinations with other flows of water in the city draws on quantitative and qualitative data collected as part of a study on water access by the urban poor conducted from 2014–2017. The data collection conforms to the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research ethics principles (All households, consumers, and water sector personnel interviewed verbally indicated their informed consent prior to the survey or interview being conducted, following an explanation of the project and information being collected, and a guarantee of maintaining the anonymity of respondents, following the principles of voluntary participation in research, safety in participation, privacy, and trust [42
]. Situating our analysis of individual household PDW consumption within the uneven geographies of access in which they are consumed draws on qualitative data collected over 2015–2017, and is supplemented by previously published historical analyses of the politics of the city’s water infrastructure.
We analyze quantitative data drawn from two sets of household surveys. A first round of survey data on water supply was collected from April to November 2014 in three sub-districts (Kelurahan): Penjaringan, in the North Jakarta municipality, and Gedong and Ciracas, in the East Jakarta municipality (‘Survey A’; n = 189). The sample was taken from lower-income neighborhoods (Rukun Warga/RW) in these sub-districts, identified through interviews with the sub-district heads and staff of development organizations working in these areas. A second round of data collected between July and December 2015 (‘Survey B’; n = 80) specifically targeted customers of refill PDW in Penjaringan, Gedong, and Kampung Tengah—the latter location replacing Ciracas, for reasons of ease of accessibility.
The 2014 survey instrument documented household income, household water sources, volumes used per source and per unit, monthly expenses per water source, and mechanism of access. Data was collected by means of a stratified sample (n = 189), with 104 surveys collected in the southern locations (Gedong n = 55 and Ciracas n = 49) and 85 in the north (Penjaringan). The 2015 PDW customer survey recorded socioeconomic status, water sources accessed, and perceptions of price and quality of these sources. A total of n = 80 questionnaires was collected, 40 of which in Penjaringan and another 40 in Gedong and Tengah. Households were chosen by means of a systematic-sampling procedure from lists of customers from 12 refill water depots, with households randomly chosen from the 12 PDW providers. The providers were chosen through a purposeful sample of low-income neighborhoods in the sub-districts and identified through interviews with the local administrative leaders (Rukun Warga /Rukun Tetangga leaders), and interviews with corporate social responsibility program staff of dairy company Frisian Flag (Jakarta, Indonesia), which runs a water supply, sanitation, and hygiene program in the three sub-districts.
We purposefully selected low income neighborhoods in Jakarta to document these practices and explore the societal relations through which they can be explained. We did so given our concern with equitable water access; it is neighborhoods like these where PDW supply may increase inequalities in access based on affordability, raising percentage of monthly income spent on water supply above 5% [19
]. But it is also in these neighborhoods where the identification of PDW supply as and increasing inequality seems to provide little explanation for why residents are increasingly “choosing” PDW for supply. Perhaps most significantly, neighborhoods like these are the ones where the inequalities that PDW choices might respond to are being ignored by current water sector interventions who document, but fail to see the relevance of, use of PDW supply by households newly provided with access to piped water. We also take these research sites in Jakarta as representative for other low-income urban areas across Indonesia, where consumption of PDW is growing rapidly.
Sub-district Penjaringan is located along the coastline of Jakarta Bay. Although the socio-economic status of the district is improving, it has historically had a very high density of both legally occupied low-income communities, and illegal informal settlements along the riverside and under toll roads. The research sites in the south-eastern area of Jakarta (sub-districts Gedong, Kampung Tengah, and Ciracas) are all adjacent sub-districts geographically located in the southern half of Jakarta, but administratively part of the East Jakarta municipality. These districts became urban as the city expanded in the 1980s and land use changed from agricultural to residential and commercial.
Geographical conditions related to household water supply differ between the two areas. Penjaringan is low-lying and flood prone; given its coastal location, the shallow sub-surface groundwater is saline. In sub-districts Gedong, Kampung Tengah, and Ciracas, shallow sub-surface groundwater is still fresh and used for consumption and non-consumption purposes. For piped water access, Gedong, Ciracas, and Kampung Tengah are served by PT. Aetra, a private sector water supply company covering the eastern half of Jakarta. In Penjaringan, piped water supply services are supplied by PT. PAM Lyonnaise Jaya (PALYJA) (Jakarta, Indonesia), the private sector water supply company responsible for the Western half of the city. All the residents surveyed in these areas have a KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk, citizenship card) and can show proof of PBB (Pajak, Bumi, and Bangunan), a land and building tax payment receipt, except when the respondents are renters. Residents who have these documents are eligible for a piped water connection on their premise.
5. Discussion: More than Temporary Inequalities
In this article we have used the case of PDW consumption by low income residents in Jakarta to call attention to the politics currently absent from dominant understandings of this new form of supply. Reviewing existing research on PDW supply by consumer studies and public health, we have shown how approaching PDW through analyses of the individual making the “choice” to consume PDW removes questions of politics and power. This is the result of analytical frameworks, which disconnect choices for safe drinking water from the sociomaterial environments in which choices are made. In turn, this approach to understanding PDW supply curtails investigations into the unevenness of choices, and fails to recognize how impacts of PDW supply on inequalities are situated, with more ambiguous outcomes on access. More practically, for Jakarta, we have shown how this explanation fails to accurately identify who is consuming PDW, why, and for how long this might be the case.
In response, we have illustrated how a framework of situated UPE offers scope to (re)politicize dominant explanations for PDW supply. Specifically, UPE enables a theorization of PDW politics by tracing how uneven societal relations shape the uneven geographies of access and risk, within which individual “choices” are made. For Jakarta, we have illustrated how analyzing PDW through the politics of wider urban water distributions allows for recognition of how choices for how to secure safe drinking water are connected to other flows of water and power. Our analysis of how PDW supply is used in low income settlements, by whom, and in what combinations with other water sources, highlights the historical—not temporary—inequalities in water quantity and quality which PDW supply responds to, and points to the uneven social relations producing these conditions.
Understanding the politics of PDW supply is relevant for water and development sector interventions, especially those implemented under the mandate of SDG 6 to reduce inequalities in access. First, the sector must recognize that the relationship between PDW supply and inequalities in access is more complicated than current binary classifications of PDW as a consumer choice of the middle class, or as a temporary necessity of urban poor residents without access to piped water supply. Rather, the impact of PDW supply on access is situated, depending on the existing environmental inequalities within which it interacts. Reducing inequalities in access to safe water therefore requires interventions to redress power relations, going beyond the tendency to focus on, and leaving responsibility with, individuals.
Understanding the ambiguous impact of PDW supply on inequalities in access is important for Jakarta, but also for other cities where piped water quality has never been safe for drinking. In Indonesia, the current development focus on reducing inequalities by extending access to the network, rather than improving it, will not remove the necessity of PDW, or other treatment options, in the near future. This is especially true given suggestions of how increased supply of PDW is changing perceptions of roles and responsibilities of public water utilities to provide safe drinking water [26
More broadly, the case of PDW supply in Jakarta underscores the significance of water quality in achieving water equity. PDW trends of increased consumption by low income residents in Indonesian cities—and we suspect more globally—illuminate historical inequalities in access to different qualities of water. Ignoring water quality and the social relations which shape uneven geographies of access keeps the responsibility for “safe” water supply with the individual, not the state, and leaves the most responsibility for mitigating the poorest quality of water to those who can least afford it. The revision of the water and development indicators measuring access to water under the Sustainable Development Goals do now include criteria for water quality, and as a result have recognized PDW as a potentially improved source of safe drinking water [25
]. The rise in PDW supply emphasizes the need to revisit classifications of improved water sources, and to implement this revision within the development monitoring frameworks of individual countries.