Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Bali overexploited?

The answer to the above question is a resounding yes. Yes, Bali is definitely, and badly, overexploited. One has only to glance at the data below to be convinced that this is the current state of affairs there:

Bali last year had 5.75 million foreign and domestic tourists, which is almost twice the island’s population of 3.9 million (the ideal population based on the environmental support capacity is 1.5 million).

Of these 3.9 million “inhabitants”, the number of migrants from Java, Lombok and other parts of Indonesia has been rapidly increasing these past few years and currently is about 400,000, making the indigenous population only 89.7 percent of the local “inhabitants”.

All of Bali’s 48 beaches have undergone acute erosion, so much so that its coastline has lost 181.7 kilometers of land this last decade, which amounts to 41.5 percent of the island’s total shoreline.

In one year alone, in 2008, the satellite data showed that Bali lost 88.6 kilometers of its beaches, caused mainly by massive disregard of zoning and coastline laws.
This last decade, the average temperature in Bali rose from 28 to 30 degrees Celsius to 33. This is caused mostly by an increase in population density.

The number of hotel rooms, excluding those in the fast mushrooming villa complexes, has shot up to 78,000 while the optimum number is 22,000, as indicated by the survey commissioned by the government.

A hotel room consumes on average 300 liters of water per day. With 78,000 rooms, this amounts to at least 23,400,000 liters of precious water used daily by the tourist industry.

The result is a massive shortage of water in various parts of Bali and acute seepage of seawater penetrating inland, with sea levels rising by 50 centimeters in most coastal areas in Bali.

Massive illegal logging is occurring in the forests of West Bali, endangering the island’s few national parks. Since 1983, Bali has lost 25,000 hectares of its forest, indicating a drastic reduction of one fifth of its forest reserves within a 20-year period.

The island’s pride, the Bali tiger (panthera tigris balica) is now long extinct and will soon be followed by its rare bird, the Bali starling (Leucopsar rothschildi) of which only a few dozen currently remain.

Around-the-clock traffic jams are now an everyday phenomena in most parts of Bali, especially throughout the regencies of Badung, Gianyar, Tabanan, Buleleng and the major highway around the whole of the island.

Bali has lost on average 1,500 hectares of lush agricultural land per year to the tourist industry over the past 30 years. Considering Bali’s small land mass, this is an enormous alienation shift.

The situation is especially critical since agriculture is the basis of Bali’s culture and land is regarded as sacred by the islanders. With each land transaction, the temples, communal way of life, ceremonies and rituals of the Balinese who once lived on that land disappear in one swipe.

In its place comes a hotel, mall or restaurant that every day exudes an alien way of life, fast replacing the indigenous culture.

While the biodiversity erosions are caused by an overuse of natural resources due to an influx of tourists and changes in lifestyle are severe enough, the cultural erosions caused by the land alienations are more critical as they lead to the rapid extinction of the Balinese custom, tradition and identity.

Why has such a calamity befallen Bali? The answer lies in the government, both at the central and provincial levels, together with the tourist industry’s overfocus on Bali.

This has its background in the mid-1970s when Indonesia, short of cash, decided to finance its development program through tourism. Bali, being already well-known worldwide, became the prime cash-cow target.

Since then, little has changed. This overexploitation of Bali does not only erode the biocultural heritage of the island, but tends to inhibit the development of Indonesia’s many other magnificent tourist sites.

Take, for example, the Borobudur temple, the UNESCO–recognized world heritage site attracted only 85,000 visitors last year compared to more than 1 million for the similar Angkor Watt temple in Cambodia.

Another icon, Toraja, known for its unique ethnic culture, was only able to entice 5,000 tourists in 2009.

This also goes for Bunaken, famous for its world–class sea coral formations, which brought in an average of only 10,000 visitors annually versus Thailand’s Pattaya with 4.5 million tourists yearly.

Is it any wonder then that Indonesia, with its countless diverse treasures, could only attract 6.4 million tourists in 2009, a fraction of Singapore’s 10 million, Thailand’s 15 million and Malaysia’s 22 million visitors for that same period?
To save Bali from further rapid erosion and, at the same time, develop the other promising tourist sites throughout the archipelago, the government needs to do some fast-yielding rehabilitation programs.

This can be done by picking a selection of quick-win tourist sites that need only a little refurbishment in order to bloom.

Such examples are the Borobudur, Bunaken and Toraja, which need only small infrastructure touches to turn them into world–class tourist attractions, as they already have the international reputations to do so.

At the same time, the government needs to come up with a relevant branding statement as a national marketing tool to encourage the right type of tourists to come and visit Indonesia.

The right type of visitors will admire the land’s culture and create a spiraling upward effect of similar tourists coming, provoking more admiration for the local heritage.

It is high time that such a move be made by the government to foster more tourist attractions nationwide and save the biocultural heritage of Bali, which is on the brink of losing its self-identity.

By Anak Agung Gde Agung minister of societal affairs under president Abdurrahman Wahid.

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