Awards 2000 The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

Short-listed: Thames Water plc.

Thames has brought piped, drinkable water to an outlying and neglected area of Jakarta called Marunda whose 12,000 people, most of them poor, previously depended on expensive water brought by tankers. They used to queue for water from 3am or buy a few jerry cans from door-to-door vendors. Now they can afford to use 12 or 15 times as much.

One of Thames Water's new customers writes: "Water, clear and cool like crystal, is now flowing from every tap. What we hoped for has been fulfilled - washing, drinking, everything clean. Street vendors no longer sell their water to us. They work in a factory and keep their carts as a souvenir for their old age."

In 1997 Thames Water signed a 25-year contract to run and improve the supply in the eastern half of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. John Hurcome, who helped set up the scheme, believes that this sort of long-term task will increasingly go to private companies. Bringing in a private contractor means drawing up a clear contract setting out what is to be done and where the money is coming from. This makes it easier and cheaper to get loans and insulates the work from changes in government budgeting.

Nevertheless Thames Water and its contract had to withstand a major shock: the fall of President Suharto's government under whose rule it had negotiated its contract. It persuaded the new government that it was committed long-term to Jakarta, its people and their water supply. The Marunda scheme, undertaken as part of an international initiative called Business Partners for Development, demonstrates that commitment. It achieved precisely what it set out to achieve in a city where money has often been misappropriated.

Marunda is on Jakarta's north-east fringe. Its people, who mostly make their living from fishing, farming or as security guards, were moved there in 1984 because the sites of their old homes were needed for a new port. They were promised piped water but it did not arrive. To receive tanker-borne water they paid several times what they now pay for piped. In the rainy season, the tankers often failed to reach Marunda, leaving people to buy salty water from wells.

Thames Water started pipelaying in 1999 as a result of an appeal from the Mayor of North Jakarta which highlighted the community's plight. Elsewhere in Marunda, the municipality itself commissioned pipelaying but only a tenth of the World Bank money allocated was actually invested. Thames Water had to take over and improve the pipes. However, the whole of Marunda now has piped water at a cost of 995 to 1,275 rupiahs (10p to 13p ) for a thousand litres. Most people take this low price in their stride since it is well below what they previously paid; but it is still a problem for the very poor.

The head of the community where Thames Water laid the first pipes writes: "We are very grateful for having clean water in our area. We have the water straight from our 'water tanker' at home."