Spontaneous Combustion

As our picture on page one of this edition illustrates, at the direction of embarrassed officials, workers were scrubbing and sweeping prime tourist areas this week that had become so inundated with litter they were barely recognisable.

It should not be easy to forget that Bali’s prime asset outside of agricultural lands and some export industries such as crafts are the places where people from outside the island come to spend time. If these locations are covered in filth and clogged with traffic, naturally tourists will have a less-than-enjoyable experience and relate their disappointment to friends and family back home, in the process causing knock-on damage to Bali’s main earner, tourism.

And so it was distressing to hear the reaction last week from some officials to a Time magazine article that highlighted the rising problems of pollution and gridlock on our small and increasingly overburdened island. The response from Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik was particularly disappointing. He claimed the environmental disasters threatening Bali, from where he originates, were the result of rubbish washed up from outlying islands by high winds.

It is true that the seemingly endless stormy conditions afflicting Bali have resulted in a great deal of debris washed up on our shores; but that’s a small part of what the article spotlighted and it’s easy, for the most part, to clean up, as it mostly comprises dead sea creatures, driftwood and food wrapping. On a larger scale it is the industries operating in Bali that are sometimes the cause of effluent damaging the environment, including ocean waters themselves.

Minister Wacik said the magazine overstated the problems and reassured himself that “In the end the tourists will come back.” We’re not as confident, but we commend Governor I Made Mangku Pastika for his declaration that yes, indeed, these issues are real and in need of urgent resolution.

The reflex reaction witnessed this week on beaches will soon peter out, and there is every likelihood it will be supplanted by a return to old ways – of doing nothing. But that is not to say that outside officialdom there is indifference among the people. Just this week an Indonesian man was honoured in the United States for his ardent work in preventing industrial waste from polluting water used by people in the East Java capital, Surabaya.

Prigi Arisandi is the second Indonesian to win the esteemed Goldman Environmental Prize, after Bali’s Yuyun Ismawati was bestowed it two years ago for her community-based recycling scheme.

People do care about their environment. It’s about time their leaders started doing the same.

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