Jul 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:22 AM, Jul 16, 2024

Sustainable recovery

Published: Jul 29, 2007

Christine Foster

Many people, whether members of the multi-ethnic and multinational community living on Bali, officials and businessmen from Jakarta, or groups and aid agencies from abroad, are committed to helping Bali recover from the recent tragedy. The reasons are numerous: economic disaster looms on the horizon; its pristine image is now tarnished by the phrase 'soft target'; its people suffer endemic corruption, and mismanaged development. Post-bomb Bali has been inundated by benefit concerts, fund-raising dinners, media campaigns and action plans to restore, revitalise, and repair Bali. Among it all, a deeper dilemma is emerging, one which demands honesty about the serious environmental and social problems in Bali from all those involved in the massive recovery movement in Bali.

No paradise

The Kuta bombing showed the world that in stark contrast to its heavenly image in the tourist brochures, Bali is not immune to terrorist attacks. Indeed, even before the bomb, one need only encounter a drug dealer or pimp in Kuta's chaotic streets, gaze upon the garbage piles lining roads, or wade through a flood in the rainy season to see that all was not well on the island. The many environmental, social and economic issues plaguing Bali stem from years of Jakarta-led developmentalism and official corruption. The well-intentioned billions (yes billions) of dollars pledged to restore Bali must overcome rampant greed, and rampant bureaucracy in order to be properly spent, and consensus on how to do it is slow in coming.

It must be kept in mind that Bali-cum-paradise was not developed exclusively by, or even for, the Balinese. For decades, the Indonesian government's grand development scheme for the island focused primarily on mega-projects for tourism, relying on Jakarta or foreign investors to build the hotels and tourist attractions, and aid agencies like the World Bank to provide loans for the roads, waterworks and other infrastructure necessary to support a mass-tourism industry. The explosive pace of development in the southern part of Bali where most tourism is based set the tone for the next decade of unrestrained development. Well-financed investors from outside were free to do as they liked, and the Balinese followed suit with shops, galleries and bungalows, often selling ancestral land to finance these small-scale projects. Regional master plans drawn up by the government to ensure environmental sustainability, or even the quality of life for Bali residents, was easily altered to accommodate wealthy, well-connected investors.

The great roads built to serve the tourists have attracted smaller but no less aggressive investors who have erected strip malls, villas, and other tourist based businesses. Development planning was inadequate, and long before the bomb, the island's too few roads weren't wide enough for the tourist-laden buses, its water distribution system couldn't deliver adequate water to residents (though golf courses were eternally green and swimming pools filled) and land in the developed parts of Bali had reache8 prices far beyond the reach of the average Balinese.

Those who were lucky enough to have a helping hand onto the tourism bandwagon now face a bleak immediate future. Since that fateful night in Kuta, hotel occupancy in many establishments has plummeted to single digits. Though the holidays saw a brief surge of arrivals of mostly domestic tourists to the island, they have, for the most part, returned home. Many believe that a US-led assault on Iraq in early 2003 will keep the majority tourists away for at least a few more months, and will most certainly affect bookings for the high season of June-August. Then there is Indonesia's national election in 2004, which holds no promises to be peaceful. Few tourists walk the towns of Kuta, Sanur and Ubud and many workers, especially those in the substantial informal sector of the tourism industry, have been sent home to wait for better days.

Recovery, big business-style

Bn the meantime, the Indonesian Government, foreign aid agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs), companies and private individuals have embarked on various campaigns and initiatives to help Bali recover. The biggest and most recent is 'Bali for the World', a well-funded campaign initiated by Kadin, the Indonesian Business Association. Initially, the Bali for the World Committee came to the island with lots of money and little understanding of the real issues facing post-bomb Bali. Over the holidays, the Committee sponsored a series of highly publicised public concerts, and invited high-level bureaucrats from Jakarta to watch dancers clad in Hollywood renditions of Balinese traditional dress sing songs of hope and peace. With the President and her husband, Mr. Taufik Kiemas the centre of media attention, the events left many Balinese to wonder why the government and well-connected business people from Jakarta would spend seventy billion rupiah (A$ 13 million) for a series of mega-concerts when the money could be used more effectively to fix some of Bali's more serious problems, like mounting garbage, scarce urban water supply or even an antiquated education system. Made Nurbawa, of the Indonesian environmental organisation Walhi, felt that Balinese were ready to move on and were annoyed by the ongoing post-tragedy campaigns, speeches and events. Of the recent concert series he said, 'I think we need to look at Bali and the world, not Bali for the World.

What the Balinese want is to be quiet (ngeneng). Life needs to slow down. The Balinese have already dealt with the bombing in their own way with the Parisudha Karypurbhaya ceremony'. Balinese organised the ceremony in November 2002 in order to restore the island's cosmic balance.

Homegrown initiatives

Thankfully, the scope of Bali's recovery has expanded beyond Kuta, victims of the bombing, and even the Balinese economy to address issues of social and environmental sustainability. Jakarta and Balinese NGOs are committed to working together in order to benefit the island and its residents. Activists in the recovery effort in Bali are taking steps to ensure that the Balinese are included in decisions about how and where the money is spent.

Among them is activist Viebeke Lengkong, a Kuta resident and a member of the locally based Samigita, a citizen group deeply involved in the Bali Recovery. According to her, the most critical issue facing Bali is 'the potential for social conflict and disintegration stemming from a lack of human security'. Her definition of security includes access to healthcare and education for the Balinese as well as the health of the environment in which they live, especially those in rural areas far from the tourist centers of Bali. 'Communication and cooperation is the most important thing in Bali's recovery,' she comments, describing the key to overcoming the suspicion and corruption that characterised initial recovery efforts.

Recently, well over 1,000 volunteers converged on the village of Catur in the Kintamani area to plant a total of 50,000 trees alongside local villagers in a forest vital for the island's watershed. The aim of this project was to raise awareness about illegal logging, a practice that has been running rampant in Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia. Among the volunteers were village residents, government officials, activists, members of the military as well as expatriates. This same program, sponsored in parp by the Bali for the World Organizing Committee, will be repeated in coming months in other regencies in Bali.

Other planned campaigns, not all funded by Jakarta, include instituting permanent garbage collection and recycling schemes, revamping Bali's public healthcare system, and campaigning for sustainable urban planning. These homegrown development initiatives reveal that the Balinese are acutely aware of the negative impacts tourism development has had on their island, and are taking steps to repair the mistakes of the past. For the time being, no one can find the magic mantra to bring back all of those dollar-laden tourists back to the island. In all honesty, though, Bali has been blessed with an opportunity to become more than an icon of paradise in the collective imagination. By implementing sustainable solutions to long term environmental and social problems, the Balinese are taking steps to help their embattled island and in the process, improving their own standard of living.

Christine Foster (luhbulan@denpasar.wasantara.net.id) is currently studying Sustainable Development at Murdoch University in Perth.

Inside Indonesia 74: Apr - Jul 2004

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