Expats warn over time bomb Bali

by Ray Clancy on March 5, 2010

Bali is losing its attractiveness and needs to be more sustainable and protect its rainforests and coastline, according to long term expats who say they are watching the island self destruct.

There is growing concern that utilities and infrastructure are not being modernised, that rampant development is spoiling nature and that even cultural life is suffering.

An environmental time bomb is ticking under the surface of tropical beauty, stunning beach sunsets, surf sand and upmarket hotels and villas, it is claimed.

Expats talks of gridlocked traffic, pollution, rotating power blackouts, water shortages and sewerage and garbage threatening ecological sustainability and tainting the much loved island’s image as a haven from the urban rat race.

Now some officials are also becoming aware of the inherent problems that are largely being overlooked by a government determined to increase the number of tourists while ignoring the environmental impact of growth.

‘If Bali continues in this way, it will collapse in 10 years,’ acknowledged Oswar Mungkasa, the executive of the country’s National Development Planning Agency.

‘For me, Bali is not as attractive as it was. Local government doesn’t realise, because investors keep coming, it is sitting on a time bomb,’ he added.

Lack of awareness and absences of regulatory enforcement are recipes for infrastructure disaster, according to Mungkasa. ‘Bali is a fantastic island. You can find anything there, from the culture, the sun, the sea, even sex. The environment is getting worse, but the tourists are still coming,’ he said.

Part of the problem lies with local people. ‘The Balinese mindset is not educated or aware. They see sanitation as a cost, not an investment. They dump their rubbish in the drainage system. They cannot understand why they should change their habits,’ said one expat.

Although development restrictions apply on valuable beachfront property in Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, hotel construction continues unabated in other locations and in the scramble for the tourist dollar, opportunistic investors are carving into what remains of untouched western and southern coastlines.

As the jewel in Indonesia’s tourism crown, Bali generates 30% of national tourist revenue, an estimated $US3 billion or more a year. Expat Alasdair Stuart, a spokesman for inTouch Realty in Seminyak, the island’s first real estate agency, sees no let up in development. ‘There is rampant and random urban sprawl,’ he said.

Multi million dollar homes are replacing quaint fishing villages and the island’s infrastructure is fraying under the pressure. Electricity comes from Java but there are no energy efficiency incentives but instead power blackouts. The national electricity board, PLN, pleads insufficient funds for maintenance.

‘We have to upgrade electricity, water, sewerage and telecommunications,’ admitted Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, of Bali Tourism Board.

And sewage is a real problem. ‘People don’t have proper septic tanks or sewerage collection so they discharge waste water to the rivers, which flows to the ocean. Only 10% of household sewage is treated,’ an official admitted.

‘No one seems conscious of the fact Bali is a small island with limitations,’ said Adnyana Manuaba, a government adviser on sustainable development and physiologist from Udayana University in Denpasar. Manuaba condemns continuing hotel development and blames a lack of holistic planning and weak law enforcement on infrastructure stagnation.

Increasing luxury villa development is adding to the problems. ‘Hundreds of illegal villas, without permits or licences, are being built. In the long term, it’s going to implode. The past six years have gone crazy,’ said another expat.

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