In two years, almost half the number of people who died in the abominable bombings here have lost their lives to a terror of our own enabling: the invariably fatal and agonizingly painful disease that is rabies.
The most recent death came at the weekend, that of a 43-year-old man from Gianyar. On the questionable official count, his was death number 94. The tourism industry is being hit by continuing negative foreign press coverage of the crisis. Governments including those of the United States and Australia have starkly warned their citizens about the rabies risks of visiting Bali.
It could not get any worse (but it will). Yet, inexplicably, the attitude here is one of overwhelming indifference. Well over half a million dogs remain on our streets, snarling and lunging at passers-by and some transferring the deadly contagion. We are well aware of this country’s battle against human terrorists, but in Bali, hard hit by such extremists, we absurdly allow an animal version free rein.
Aside from rabies, foreign holidaymakers are increasingly saying they will not return to Bali until the threatening dogs are removed.
The stray population explosion has grown this bad because there is no adequate pet control by owners and neither the official will nor the apparent manpower to enforce regulations such as a recent one banning all strays.
Traditional village security guards known as pecalang are going around asking foreigners in villas for money – what for is not clear – while not doing their job of providing security in the villages. They, too, are blasé about the deadly dog threat.
The dog lobby – a grouping of foreigners living in Bali backed by animal organisations overseas – point to the government’s failure to contain rabies by means of its cull. They say vaccination is the only workable fix, and last week began, with the nod from the government, which is assisting, a jab programme aimed at 70 percent of the island’s dogs. They estimate it will take two years to rid Bali of rabies.
We are not so sure.
The government’s cull failed because it was fatally uncoordinated, sporadic and not supported at village level. We have witnessed cull vehicles patrolling areas where stray dogs run wild, and continued to do so after the vans had meandered thorough.
Faced with spiralling vaccine bills to hospitals and Jakarta, the government has capitulated to the animal activists. It should not have done so. It should have extended its cull and worked with neighbourhoods throughout the island to ensure that not one stray dog walks the streets.
It is when the viral container is reduced to a minimal level (and kept there) that we can look at vaccination as the chief protection. That vital first step has been missed by the government and the health authorities – and the community, which for cultural and economic reasons doesn’t want to lose its dogs. This is not Chennai, the Indian city cited by the vaccination-only lobby. This is not the United States, where every domestic and farm dog is registered and health-checked. This is shambolic Bali (that’s part of its charm in other contexts). There are too many dogs either living wild or left to roam. When these numbers are reduced this horrendous health emergency will end.
What we are now seeing, however, is an exhausting years-long experiment that is highly likely to cause many more human deaths and wreak lasting damage on Bali’s economy as people overseas become more aware of the problem and stay away.
It need not be this way, with a little common sense. But Bali has created its own bomb, and it looks set to claim many more human lives than the terrorists’.