Australia, Indonesia launch construction of sustainable infrastructure for most vulnerable in global research trial

Australia and Indonesia are partnering on infrastructure to enhance water, sanitation and climate resilience – signalling a new approach for the one billion people living in informal settlements.

Informal settlement communities in Makassar came together with Monash University, Hasanuddin University, the Australian Government, Makassar Government and national government representatives today to launch the construction of new sustainable infrastructure. The initiative is set to enhance access to critical water and sanitation services and climate resilience for residents living in Makassar’s informal settlements.

More than 300 households across multiple informal settlement communities in Makassar, South Sulawesi, will receive sustainable, water-sensitive upgrades, including nature-based wastewater treatment systems, rainwater harvesting, toilets and improved pathways and access. The upgrades, co-designed with communities, will deliver sanitation, clean water and climate resilience for hundreds of households in areas that are difficult to reach by conventional trunk infrastructure.

RISE has partnered with the local city government since the beginning of the program. The City of Makassar has been instrumental in facilitating the pioneering program and the settlement upgrades.

Makassar City Mayor Mohammad Ramdhan Pomanto is hopeful that the RISE trial can help influence and attract future investments into these types of transformative solutions, saying, "I am proud that Makassar is a global ‘pilot city’ of sorts, of these technologies for our people."

"We have a vision to be a sustainable, thriving city with innovation at our heart, which is why we are rolling out this water-sensitive approach in our city’s settlements. I’m very excited about this partnership that is uniting Australia and Indonesia through research and real-world impact," Mr Pomanto said.

The community upgrades are part of a first-of-its-kind research program based out of Monash University – the RISE program. RISE aims to collect the first-ever rigorous scientific evidence to see if a localised, water-sensitive approach to upgrading informal settlements can deliver sustainable improvements to the health of people and their environments.

Merry Handayani said her community has been engaging deeply with RISE for months to design infrastructure to suit her community’s unique needs.

"I experienced the benefit of the RISE program on the health of my children by checking faeces and bloods periodically. I do hope my neighbourhood is clean and healthy for our next generation."

Deputy Director of RISE leading the infrastructure intervention, Professor Diego Ramirez-Lovering from Monash University, said RISE is conducting robust research on the impacts of a water-sensitive approach in a developing context.

"Partnering with informal settlements in the RISE trial, we have the chance to think outside the box and be innovative. The water-sensitive approach addresses servicing needs by working with nature to improve urban liveability, access to services, restore the natural environment and improve biodiversity," Professor Ramirez-Lovering said.

"As our climate changes, these communities are disproportionately impacted by increasing severity of rainfall, drought and heat, and environmental degradation, all of which consequently reduce their health and wellbeing – this intervention aims to enhance these communities’ resilience in the face of climate change."

Hasanuddin University (UNHAS) leads RISE’s environmental and health research in Makassar. Rector Professor Jamaluddin Jompa said UNHAS is taking cutting-edge planetary health research forward in Indonesia as part of RISE, and beyond.

"Our School of Public Health is home to a bespoke laboratory that meets the highest international quality standards. The ways in which our technicians have been trained and set up to lead harmful pathogen analysis in our own communities is a long-term legacy of the program," he said.

As a core RISE partner, the Australian Government sees the potential for this unique, locally anchored approach to improve living conditions for billions of people. Australia has committed over AU$4 million to revitalise the informal settlements through the Indonesia Australia Partnership for Infrastructure (KIAT).

Construction kicks off just weeks after Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the program’s demonstration site which showcases the systems in action, and how they are addressing the community’s needs.

Speaking at the launch, Australian Consul-General in Makassar Ms Bronwyn Robbins spoke of Australia’s commitment to climate and infrastructure cooperation in Indonesia.

"The Australian Government is proud to partner with Indonesia on innovative solutions that improve access to climate resilient water and sanitation systems for residents of informal settlements, while improving human health and wellbeing."