As we marked the ninth year this week since the terrorist atrocities visited on this island, it is reassuring that since the subsequent strike three years later peace has returned to Bali, bolstered by stringent security, and the once-shattered economy has thrived.
While the threat of terrorism has faded, we remain ever vigilant. But as our island has been developing in recent years, new dangers have emerged, many of our own making.
Bali gets glowing press reviews overseas, and rightly so, as its natural beauty and wonders, and the grace of its warm people, are unparalleled. These characteristics are responsible for drawing record numbers of foreign visitors to our shores.
But, increasingly, Bali is a foreign news story without any shining elements. As its success has grown, so too have scourges such as drugs. The authorities – police and customs officials – must continue their clampdown on drug traffickers and users, and on the pushers, those shadowy individuals lurking on streets and trying to tempt passers-by.
Far worse, for the many who come to spend time here, is the rapid decay of what were once pristine surroundings. With the millions who now visit Bali annually come the investment dollars of individuals seeking to capitalise on the roaring trade. That’s the flow of commerce and it must not be hindered. But is should be managed in such a way that does not despoil the landscape. No one wants a concrete-jungle Bali – that’s what many holidaymakers left behind – but southern areas are becoming so built up that in places you could imagine you were in a huge metropolis, not what has largely been a farming and fishing island.
It is encouraging that the authorities are expanding Bali’s main airport, Ngurah Rai, to accommodate the influx of visitors. But the development of basic infrastructure needs to go far beyond its gates. Our roads are unable to cope with today’s heavy traffic and, regrettably, traffic jams are now a common sight. Various plans have been touted to alleviate the gridlock, from flyovers to subterranean roads, and predictably they have been shelved for lack of practicality in constructing them. Ideas are two-a-penny among Bali officialdom, generating great excitement at the outset but fizzling faster than a lead balloon. Governor Pastika’s railway proposal was an interesting one, but it’s not on-track.
So much is in need of attention – from litter-strewn beaches to sewage seeping into places it shouldn’t be to the disappearing water table – that it’s tempting to just chug along and hope it all works out. It won’t. If Bali degenerates, tourists will go elsewhere.
Therefore it is the imperative duty of everyone – and especially those in the vital tourism sector – to work together and with the authorities to draw up a developmental blueprint for Bali covering all major aspects of the island’s infrastructure, from roads and bridges to health and sanitation and effective policing – placing officers at key tourist areas to ensure no one is in a position to have drugs forced on them.
Yes, together we can make a difference.