Governor Made Mangku Pastika merits full marks for introducing a moratorium on new hotel development in Bali. However, in order to create any meaningful impact, the current moratorium must also be expanded to include commercial villas, time-share apartments and condotels if we are to halt Bali's current slide into irredeemable iniquity.
That Bali needs to put the brakes on new tourist accommodation development is painfully obvious where the arguments for an immediate, wide-ranging moratorium are all-pervasive:
• Bali has too many rooms. A study done by the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism last year showed Bali was oversupplied by more than 9,800 hotel-rooms. This report predated the introduction of an estimated 10,000 new hotel rooms scheduled to come on line this year or looming plans to build the Bali International Park - a mega complex of hotel rooms, convention facilities and villas in Jimbaran, South Bali.
• Bali is overwhelmed with traffic. Bali’s roadways cannot support the traffic loads generated by its growing population base (up 20% in the last ten years) and the “go for growth” model of tourism development now in vogue. The Sanur to Benoa-Nusa Dua toll way and underpass at Simpang Siur are, at best, only stop gap measures, inadequate to overcome the traffic jams that are now a sad part of the Bali experience.
That the island’s leaders readily agreed to a request from the toll way developers to abandon the planned underpass connection to Sanur in order to ensure higher volumes of traffic on the new toll road is a quintessential example of how “the tail wags the dog” among Bali's policymakers.
• Bali is running out of water. Bali will face a a severe water shortage within 5 years. Saltwater intrusion is making a rapid inland advance at major tourism areas, such as Sanur and Kuta. Moreover, experts warn that the mounting fresh water deficit, due to groundwater over-exploitation, may eventually bring catastrophic subsidence, creating sink holes capable of devouring businessed and hotels along Bali’s beachfronts.
And while South Bali has several major rivers it taps for water, these precious arteries are becoming so badly fouled that the cost of purification to a safe level for human consumption has become problematic.
Without a definite plan in hand to provide sufficient water for Bali’s main population centers, every time island officials grant a new permit for a hotel or villa they are guilty of writing a check Bali may be unable to cash in the future for fresh water supply.
• Bali is short on electrical power. A plan to build the world's highest high-voltage towers carrying electricity from Java to Bali is now on hold as new plans are considered for an island-based LNG-generated power system. While we hope a clean and efficient means of supplying power for Bali is eventually devised, the simple fact remains thay an estimated 50,000 Balinese families are without any electrical connection on an island where each day new hotels and villas are plugged into an already overburdened power grid.
That Balinese children sit in the dark, doing their homework by gas light is a damning indictment that the development model now in place is somehow fundamentally flawed.
• Is Bali still home to the Balinese? The Balinese are becoming increasingly marginalized on the very island that bears their name.
The banjars and subaks – the ancient land-based cornerstone institutions of the island - are disintegrating at an alarming rate as an increasing number of Balinese find themselves landless. Skyrocketing property prices, the loss of agricultural lands to tourism and industrial pursuits, and the growing number of farmers compelled to sell ancestral lands due to rising property taxes - are all symptomatic of the growing social disruption that threatens Bali’s future peace. Prelude to the potential for coming social unrest is found on the pages of Bali newspapers with almost weekly reports of violent clashes between warring local communities.
As the Balinese become increasingly aware that their children have little or no hope of affording a homestead on their own island, the new generation of Balinese, living as tenants on what was once their homeland, will have little stake in preserving the idyllic paradise cherished by their newly landed lords and ladies.
Such harsh truths are unwelcome on several fronts. There are those offended that we dare to disrupt their hallowed rapture in paradise; unprepared to accept that their desire to claim their own corner of Eden has been achieved at the expense of the original inhabitants of Bali. There are also others preferring the quick return on investment offered by the loose regulatory and developmental environmental in Bali; telling us not to "rock the boat" which they remind, after all, sets sail at sunset for a new island once Bali's charms have been finally depleted.
Despite the prevalence of new construction underway at every turn in the road, we remain hopeful that the groups trying to scoop up every last are of available land represent a distinctly small minority. We are equally hopeful that the thoughtful majority is keenly aware that Bali desperately needs a pause from the present helter-skelter of unbridled development in order to allow the time to carefully reasses how best to preserve and protect those qualities of life that first drew us to these shores.
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