The Unbearable Lightness of Befuddlement
By Novar Caine
It is hard to get any story straight in Bali, especially at official level. Asking a government spokesperson for comment to straight-out a situation is like asking an Irishman for directions: He won’t have a clue but he’ll point you in some direction anyway. Just for the sake of it, and just to show some semblance of knowledge and control. (Sure isn’t it better to say something than nothing.)
So it is with various urgent issues on this island. The fierce outbreak of rabies is top of the emergency list, but to talk to government figures you’d be hard pressed to know if there’s a real crisis at all. There is: the human death toll since the dog-vectored disease broke out in Bali two years ago is at 107 and given the high number of bites by stray dogs and the estimated over 10 percent infection rate among canines the fatalities are projected to increase next year as the virus incubates in people and becomes full-blown.
Yet the government – or at least the Animal Husbandry Department – is treating the epidemic as though it bore the mild nuisance of a cold. The head of the department cannot get his lines right. He has bounced wildly between an almost total vaccination of stray dogs – that’s 70 percent of the estimated 560,000 feral population, a break point where it is thought the virus cannot continue to effectively replicate – days after the ambitious campaign kicked off in late September to just over half, and back again. The headless-chicken careening continues with statements – the most recent last week – that no, we are not now standing by our two-year rabies-eradication deadline, because we’re extending it by a further year.
After a haphazard, chaotic cull to wipe out the deadly stray dogs the problem will now be (humanely) solved by inoculating almost three-quarters of Bali’s wild population of mutts. It will never happen. As the authorities claim success in carrying out their jab programme, having – allegedly – injected vast packs of wandering dogs, many of them owned by careless people who will not take responsibility for their pets, sentient folk ask: Where is the evidence of this activity? Where are the collars supposedly injected dogs should be wearing? Where are the marks of paint on juveniles? It is a phantom operation cloaked in a veneer of bewilderment. Sure, say something; it’s better than keeping your mouth shut.
Puzzlement has also extended to the government’s attempts to solve the chronic traffic woes in southern parts of Bali. There is an added political impetus now, with various international meetings upcoming, including a gathering of the Association of South East Asian Nations, the talk-shop that seemingly gathers 12 countries in the region.
And so a plan was hatched. There would be a grand flyover at Simpang Siur. Then the quibbling began. The flyover would mean relocating a statue. So it was agreed that an underpass rather than a flyover would be built instead. That would do the job. It would allow dignitaries to be ferried to their venues and accommodations with the minimum of traffic delay. Only the scheme has been scrapped. Or, rather, altered. It was too near a water table. So we’re back to the overpass. Or so it seemed. Time ran out. Now we were offered a slightly raised road over a collection of protected mangrove trees. But there is as yet no budget for the project, or any effective moves to devise one.
These bumbling antics do not enspirit Bali life. Instead they drain us of the hope of real development and a chance to live in a place with real services and infrastructure. Clear thinking has become an oxymoron; enacting plans gives way to torpor. We are all being sucked into the vortex of vicissitude.
We can forgive the comic routine that besets planning and development on our island. We can even, in this sun-drenched place where indolence is a way of life, as though the giant and generous orb saps and energy evaporates, understand it. In an offbeat way lax oversight and forever-stalled progress can even be viewed with a soupçon of charm. What is unforgivable, however, is that people are dying in their dozens from an horrific disease for which there is no cure and only a swift and painful end, when there is entirely no need for this rolling wave of tragedy and despair.
Forget about Hindu beliefs that dogs protect their masters and lead souls to heaven as a reason for allowing the lethal status quo. Enough people have died, and it is with the living that we – and policy – must be concerned. Bring the army onto the streets of this island and clear them one by one of every stray dog in sight. Bring them back two, three times to ensure the job is done. Before this year ends, at least do one thing right.
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