The Toilet Project, Batam // Indonesia

Batam is a small island along Indonesia’s archipelago – just a short one-hour boat ride from Singapore. It is a convenient and affordable tourist destination, known for its beaches, resorts, nightlife and duty-free malls. But step beyond this enclave and you’ll discover a whole new side of Batam that only the locals are privy to.

Batam – a popular destination for a weekend getaway

Past the borders of the tourism hub, the grittiness of your new surroundings gradually set in, with seemingly abandoned rows of shophouses that stretch along the bumpy roads. Rickety pushcarts and stalls peddling various oddities dot the pavements, serving a handful of locals. The urban facade soon gives way to clusters of dilapidated huts extending farther than the eye can see. Welcome to the slums of Batam.

A typical slum community in Batam

Each slum village is usually home to at least a few hundred people, and each family crams their entire life and belongings into a space no larger than the average living room. One of the biggest issues for the people living in these areas is the lack of proper sanitation. The basic plumbing system that we so often take for granted is not even a remote possibility here. Imagine if you can, a crude outdoor cubicle shared among a few families – that’s the slum dweller’s idea of a toilet.

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The interior of one of the houses
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The waste from these toilets are usually not disposed off hygienically. It is deposited in the underlying soil layers, which could very likely pollute nearby groundwater storages. One of the sources of drinking water for the village is from the well, hence contamination of groundwater will pose as a huge health risk to the people.
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Some of the waste from the toilets flow into the small streams that run across the slum village.

Enter APPSANI (Association for Sanitation Contractors), a local organisation comprising of over 2000 members whose mission is to provide affordable sanitation facilities in Indonesia through partnership with the local government to promote sanitation among the poor.

It already has an established presence with sustainable models for slums in big cities such as Surabaya. On our trip to Batam, our team visited the APPSANI Toilet Project in Kampung Nanas in Batam, which is part of a larger scheme that focuses on raising the standard of sanitation across the country.

How does the APPSANI toilet system work? 

Its aim is to install rudimentary toilet systems in individual homes where proper plumbing doesn’t exist, by creating a simple pipe flow from the indoor toilet to two septic tanks dug in the ground outside. Both liquid and solid waste are contained in these tanks, and enzymes are added to purge the stench and toxicity. Over time, the waste decomposes, removing the need to dispose of it in the future.

installing the septic tanks, one by one

Most importantly, this system ensures that waste will not affect well water, which serves as the locals’ drinking water. A system like this can last for 20 years, but its price tag of S$500 is way more than what any of the slum dwellers can afford.

APPSANI’s model costs S$250, of which only 30% is required as a deposit, while the rest can be paid in installments over time. To benefit the families, the organization employs them to build their own toilets, and pays them for the one-and-a-half days it takes for the works to be completed.

putting the septic tanks in place

Kampung Nanas presently has five such toilets, but it is estimated that Batam alone will need another 15,000 to 20,000. Needless to say, this project has the potential to greatly impact the slums and improve their hygiene and sanitation standards. It also contributes to greater security and safety, especially for the women and children who otherwise have to venture outside their homes in the middle of the night.

Newly installed toilet in one of the houses in Kampong Nanas. By constructing it inside the house, it contributes to greater safety and security for children and women as it reduces the need for them to venture outside, especially when they need the toilet in the middle of the night.

Watch our interviews with 2 beneficiaries of the APPSANI project

If you’d like to learn more about the project, or wish to support the project, please leave a comment or contact Actxplorer at

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