Relentless tourism spawns trouble in paradise
Holiday hot spot Bali is being submerged by an environmental crisis.
Loving Bali to death
Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard explores the major environmental issues of a wealthier society in paradise.
As long as the water continues to flow into his rice fields, Nengah Daryana will keep farming his family’s land just to the north of Bali’s holiday capital, Kuta.
For tourists, his 2300 square metres of emerald green rice paddy on the edge of town is a point of serene beauty – one of the things that draws millions to visit the Island of the Gods. For Nengah, it’s his inheritance: ”These five plots belonged to my father … My grandfather was also a farmer, and my ancestors.”
Nearby, though, Nengah’s uncle, Putu Wirnatha, has been forced to abandon his family plot.
The new 700-room Mulia hotel, which has been built on the previously pristine Nusa Dua Beach. Photo: Michael Bachelard
”In the past five years, it is boxed in by buildings, houses … they cut his access to water,” Nengah says. ”There’s no view, no irrigation. There’s nothing we can do.”
This family’s story encapsulates the dilemma that tourism presents for Bali. The buildings erected to allow people to come and enjoy the view are spoiling it; the tonnes of rubbish dumped every day are fouling the beaches; the burgeoning traffic is disturbing the peace; and the massive demand for water could trump all these problems within five or 10 years.
”Yes,” says the chairman of Bali’s tourism board, Ngurah Wijaya, ”we are loving Bali to death.”
Nengah Daryana on his family farm north of Kuta. Photo: Michael Bachelard
Bali’s sophisticated communal irrigation system, in which water flows from channel to field and back to channel among multiple farms, is called subak. Negah Daryana says that ”as long as the subak system still works” his father will not sell their land to the developers.
But subak is not just about irrigation. It’s a network of farms, a ritual of meetings and agreements and an important expression of the Balinese religious philosophy of ”Tri Hita Karana”, which holds that there are three sources of happiness: people’s relationship to God, to each other, and to nature.
Disrupt the flow of water, and you disrupt water worship in Balinese Hinduism, the rituals of which are part of the island’s allure, as well as its World Heritage listing. Now, though, because of tourism, the entire water supply of Bali is under severe stress.
The soundtrack at hundreds of upscale Bali hotels is the gentle play of water in swimming pools and fountains. But despite its tropical rainfall, clean water is in critical undersupply. I Made Suanatha, from the local non-government Wisnu Foundation, says locals use about 150 litres of water a day, tourists in hotels use 1500 litres or more.
Most of it does not come down pipes from dams. Those who are connected to piped water find that it rarely actually flows. Instead, businesses and households rely on wells. The hand-bored wells of the locals are about 10 to 12 metres deep. At the big hotels, artesian water is pumped from 60 metres underground.
All wells are supposed to be taxed and regulated but nobody pays and nobody measures how much is extracted. The volume is now so great that saltwater is beginning to spoil them.
A researcher at Bali’s Udayana university, I Nyoman Sunarta, has identified saltwater intrusion throughout Bali’s southern tourist strip and says water quality has ”degraded quite alarmingly” in recent years.
British academic Dr Stroma Cole says 260 of Bali’s 400 rivers have run dry and Bali’s biggest natural reserve of water, Lake Buyan, is in deep trouble from shrinkage, sediment and the inflow of agricultural chemicals.
Water that once flowed from springs and into and out of rice paddies to feed the subak system is being sold to the drinking water companies for purification and sale in plastic bottles, or diverted to keep tourist activities such as rafting afloat.
The catchments are declining fast. Bali’s zoning regulations require a minimum of 30 per cent of the island be covered by forest, but that figure is now 23 per cent and falling.
”As more hotels, villas, golf courses and businesses are built to cater for [tourists], the quality and quantity of forest, lakes, catchments and watersheds decline, reducing the availability of water,” Nyoman writes.
He puts Bali’s water deficit at somewhere upwards of 15,000 gigalitres per year – 25 times the volume of Sydney harbour – and rising towards 27,000 gigalitres by 2015.
”The use of water in Bali is very far beyond the island’s carrying capacity,” Nyoman says. ”With its tourism development, Bali is in an environmental crisis caused by competition over very limited natural resources.”
The deficit means subak is breaking down. It still works for Nengah, but it’s an intricate system that relies on his neighbours and his neighbours’ neighbours resisting the urge to sell their land to developers.
”We still have meetings, loans to buy seeds, fertiliser and pesticide, and it’s still being organised and assisted by the government,” Nengah says. ”I hope it continues.”
The incentive for poor rice farmers to sell their ancestral land is immense. From his 2300 square metres of land a few kilometres south, Nengah earns just $4000 per year farming rice.
”It’s not much, but it feeds my family,” he says.
By contrast, real estate in nearby Seminyak now sells freehold for $250,000 per 100 sq m. It’s no surprise that locals put their ancestral paddies on the auction block.
Farmers further and further up Bali’s south-western coast are selling to tourists (expatriates as well as those from Indonesia’s growing middle class) who fall in love with the island and want to stay, or to the developers who serve them with fresh villas, hotels and shopping malls.
Rice terraces are being converted to buildings at a rate of about 1000 hectares a year and demand is only increasing. Property analysts Knight Frank say prices for luxury property in Bali increased by 20 per cent in 2012 alone, and in Western Australia, it is being seriously spruiked by the Australian Property Institute as ”Perth’s northernmost suburb”.
(Some new property owners actually pay their neighbours to keep farming rice to preserve their view.)
Farmers who have sold their land usually go to work in tourism, which puts even more reliance on the single industry that makes up 80 per cent of the island’s economy.
”We have a regional, provincial spatial plan to try to conserve rice fields and manage Bali as an organic Island,” says I Made Suanatha, ”but it’s not enforced … The system is not strong enough to make people not corrupt it. We have a lot of regulations but very little compliance.”
An example is the moratorium imposed in 2011 by the regional governor, I Made Pastika, on new hotel developments. It is routinely flouted by local governments, who have the power to give approval.
Most recently, a monstrous new 700-room hotel, the Mulia, has been built on a previously pristine Nusa Dua beach. Governor Pastika says they used an old permit and therefore did not breach the moratorium.
”Can you stop it?” asks Wirajaya Ida Bagus, the director of the state-owned enterprise the Bali Tourism Development Corporation, which is in charge of land in Nusa Dua. ”As long as there is a demand, of course [development will continue].”
Waste is another example of good rules, zero enforcement. If you fish in Bali, or surf, dive or go to the beach, you interact with it. Environment group Walhi says the tourism industry is responsible for the contamination of 13 beaches.
”It’s so dirty we can’t use the river,” Gusti Lanang Oka, a former fisherman from the east-coast Bali village of Kusamba told the Jakarta Post. ”If we swim we get itchy. The sea is contaminated and the fish are gone.”
Just a few kilometres to the south of the beaches of Kuta lies a noisome example. The 1300-hectare Tahura mangrove forest is one of the largest remaining in Asia and in 2009 it was also proclaimed Asia’s best. But like most things that lie on a waterway in Bali, it is now choking on piles of plastic, styrofoam, even dead animals, which are dumped illegally or swept down river.
According to a recent report, Bali’s 3.2 million residents and almost 3 million visitors produce 20,000 cubic metres of garbage every day. Of this, three-quarters is not collected by any service. Tonnes of it is then caught in the net-like roots of the mangrove trees.
Pak Sumadi is paid by the government to pick up and dispose of it. But he and his young helper, Gede Marada, are just two men, helpless against the tide.
”We clean up as much as possible from the river banks,” Sumadi says, ”but no one comes to collect it. So we burn it whenever it’s dry enough.”
His permanent cough is not because of the smoking plastic, he insists, but because of the smell.
Governor Pastika has proposed trying to manage the forest better by leasing 100 hectares, almost a 10th of it, to developer TRB to build a water park and accommodation. This has earned the ire of local environmental group, Walhi, which is suing him.
”Mangrove forest protects the island,” says Walhi chief Wayan ”Gendo” Suardana. ”It protects the sea from rubbish coming from the island. It protects Bali island from erosion, and the south of Bali has a 25-year cycle of tsunamis – the mangrove forest also protects Bali island from tsunamis.”
Gendo was beaten up by thugs recently and hospitalised. Asked if he was deliberately targeted over his activism, he says: ”They asked for me by name – what do you think?”
Tourism to Bali keeps growing at about 10 to 12 per cent per year, and not just from Australia. Internal visits from Indonesians are growing fast, as are arrivals from China and other Asian countries. The island is tipped to attract 3.1 million tourists this year.
The permanent population is also growing as immigrants from poorer parts of Indonesia flock to the island to take part in the tourism gold rush. But across the spectrum, people are saying that growth driven purely by demand is no longer sustainable.
”The tourism industry needs to be controlled,” environmentalist Gendo says.
”We are strongly against growth of accommodation numbers in the southern part of Bali,” says tourism board chairman Ngurah Wijaya. ”We’re suggesting a moratorium. We want people to come to Bali, but we want a better product.”
The governor is torn between growth and conservation: ”It is admitted that [the] southern part of Bali is full enough [of] tourism facilities,” he told Fairfax Media, but ”some hotels, tourism facilities and roads need to be built.”
The question is how to regulate the flow of tourists in a place where enforcement of any regulation is problematic. Pastika refers to ”local regulations, local values and environment impact analysis”, but admits that, under Indonesia’s ”regional autonomy” laws, the lower levels of government, known as the kabupaten, are in charge. They are often addicted to the dollars new development brings.
The more rubbish coats the reefs and mangroves and forces fishermen to abandon their nets, or water shortages and land prices make farming impossible, the more Bali’s culture and environment are degraded. Of the three routes to happiness, at least two are now under threat.
”We’re on a small, fragile island,” says I Made Suanatha. ”The next generation will curse us for developing like this.”
With Amilia Rosa