Environmentalists in Bali are calling out the provincial government and private companies that are playing an active role in turning some of Bali’s biodiversity hotspots over to development projects. Speaking at a community discussion titled ‘How Are We?’ In Denpasar on Saturday, the Manager of the Bali Water Protection Program made it abundantly clear the organization’s stance on the negative impact tourism development is having on vulnerable communities and the natural landscape.
I Putu Bawa Usadi, used his time on the stage to inform the audience of his observations that historically, forests and jungles of Bali were primarily used by animals, but now he’s seeing fewer and fewer animals and more and more people destroying the forests.
Usadi said, “If you ask how Bali is today, you can say it’s not okay. We see that the flash floods that occurred last month show that there are activities in the forest that damage the environment”. Many of the families who lost their homes and livelihoods in the flash flooding disasters in October are still waiting to know where they will be relocated to by the provincial government. While flood water has mostly subsided, the damage remains.
He continued to explain that seawater intrusion is becoming an increasing concern during high-tide floods and monsoon season. He explained that in many areas in the Sanur area, seawater intrusion has reached over 1km inland. At times this seawater intrusion has infiltrated the community well water system, contaminating only viable freshwater sources.
Usadi said, “Intrusion occurs because the exploitation of underground water is too high. A solution must be found immediately by building additional wells and maintaining the upstream area”.
He made it clear that environmental damage in Bali cannot be separated from the behavior of humans. Using the example of the majority of agricultural land used for coffee and other commodities, he said that only a small amount of food produced nowadays is done so on land that is traditionally used as gardens, that much of the productive land in Bali was forested just a few generations ago.
The Advocacy Coordinator for environmental NGO Kekal Bali, I Made Untung Juli Pratama, spoke about the impact of Bali’s current infrastructural developments on the environment, and in turn, Balinese communities.
Pratama said, “Disasters that have occurred so far cannot be seen solely as natural factors, but because of policies that are not in favor of the environment. Nature is only looking for balance”. Referencing the impact of the new Gilimanuk-Menwgi Toll Road that environmental scientists have stated is destroying rice paddy fields, protected forests, and productive farmland for local communities.
Pratama also used the example of the plans to construct a new LNG gas liquefaction and storage plant in Sanur. Noting that both the central and provincial governments, and even world leaders from G20 nations, have acknowledged the importance of mangrove forests, yet the plans reportedly outline the removal of dozens of hectares of protected mangrove forests.
Pratama concluded, “Our position at Kekal Bali is clearly against these projects. Both the construction of the toll road and the LNG project, because it is clear that they are intruding on productive rice fields and destroying mangrove and coastal forests”.
The statements made by Usadi and Pratama at the How Are We panel discussion align with the observations and advice shared by many of Bali’s leading environmentalists. The topic of conversation is starting to hit the headlines more frequently, though activities and opposers of government developments in Indonesia have to pick their battles wisely. Anthropologists, conservationists, and traditional Balinese leaders are voicing their concerns for the environment and the future of tourism on the Island of the Gods.
In October, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment of Bali Province (WALHI) revealed that their recent research found that the increase in natural disasters is directly related to the conversion of land for infrastructure development, namely for the tourism sector and transportation.
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