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Tourism as Villain in Bali's Environmental Degradation

Growing Lack of Water Resources in Bali is Putting Agriculture and Tourism at Loggerheads, Threatening the Traditional Farming Culture of the Island.

(5/18/2009) The Executive Director of the Environmental Watchdog Group WALHI, Agung Wardana, has blamed tourism as the main cause of Bali's deteriorating environmental quality.

Quoted in BisnisBali, Wardana said: "the most obvious problem is water. Water in Bali is chiefly consumed by tourism, creating a conflict between the tourism industry and the Balinese people."

Clarifying his concerns, Wardana explained that each hotel room in Bali represents the consumption of 3,000 liters of water each day and each golf course demands three million liters of water a day. This contrasts sharply with the mere 200 liters of water a day used by the average Balinese.

"Imaging how many thousands of rooms in Bali that require water supplies?" asked the WALHI executive. Exacerbating the problem are not only the many hotels already in operation in Bali, but the many new hotel projects now under construction. Wardana points out that the growing demands for more water by Bali's tourism sector is reducing both the quantity and quality of available water within the Island's eco-system.

Wardana told of a growing pattern of conflict between Bali's agricultural villages living with the subak water distribution system and the conflicting demands of the State Water Board (PDAM). Citing one example, he mentioned the district of Penebel in the Tabanan regency where village officials and farmers recently came to blows over water distribution issues.

Cautioned Wardana: "I think this problem must now be considered by the government. If the current situation is left to fester, that will be the equivalent of Bali committing suicide. If Bali is short of water, who will still want to visit Bali? This will be the worse effect."

As a result, Wardana insists that the building of even more luxurious hotel and more golf courses does not truly support Bali tourism, contending that foreign tourists are not attracted to Bali to play golf but rather to enjoy and witness the Island's unique culture and natural beauty.

Wardana added: "The current tourism policy must be re-evaluated. If the same system of growing tourism is allowed to continue, the impact will be widespread. Thus, we have to find a new development model."

The outspoken and widely respected environmental activist also called on investors to be made responsible for the preservations of Bali's environment. To do this, he said, an new regulatory environment must be created that will compel all parties to take an active concern with conservation.

Wardana also raised the issue of increasing valuations on agricultural lands resulting in higher taxes that force farmers to sell their lands. Complained Wardana: "The result is that farmers are pushed to sell their lands. Land that was once productive is then converted to tourism pursuits. Each year, between 600 - 1,000 hectares of productive agricultural land is converted to non-agricultural purposes in Bali."