Denial Doesn’t Rate on Judgment Day

Denial Doesn’t Rate on Judgment Day

The national government is to be commended for quickly committing US$1 million in flood relief to the crippled Australian state of Queensland. While the amount is a fraction of the estimated $10 billion damage unleashed on homes, businesses and infrastructure by Queensland’s rampaging rivers, it is an honourable gesture, and fitting given Australia’s long and generous contribution to disaster relief, education, health, infrastructure and campaigns such as terror prevention in Indonesia.

The thousands of Australian families who lost their homes, possessions, livelihoods and in some cases their loved ones need the Jakarta finance bureaucrats to be more conscientious in releasing the aid than they’ve been in discharging funds committed to rabies control in Bali. This tardiness is an inexcusable disgrace and a link in the chain of shameful mismanagement that continues to cost lives.

Bali’s steadfast failure to exercise duty of care in addressing the spreading rabies epidemic is outrageous and short-sighted beyond belief.  Rabies is not, despite widespread nonchalance, a force of nature that can’t be stopped. It can.

Praise is due to Klungkung officials for acting quickly to cull 1,000 wild dogs after the recent deaths from rabies of two Nusa Penida residents, the first on that isolated island. Let’s hope they follow through and that others heed their rare example.

With 121 fatalities (the latest official figure), continuing community ignorance, packs of threatening dogs and uneasy tourism markets, it is well past time to strive for rabies elimination on the same scale as we would respond to an act of terror or natural disaster. And if that means setting up camps of military to hunt infected animals, so be it.

It’s past time to wrench ourselves out of denial, face up to the rabies emergency and avert the economic catastrophe that will come if the crisis spreads, claims more lives, diminishes international faith in our capacity and willpower to deal with it and then pierces the heart of tourism. Soon, if the deaths and inertia continue, travellers will conclude that Bali cares only for their currency, not for their welfare.

Indonesia was not judged on its preparedness and response to the 2004 tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh and near coastal areas. The event took everyone in its destructive path around the Indian Ocean coastline by surprise. You can’t control a tsunami. But now that the world has been brutally reminded of the ruinous potential of this force of nature, authorities in danger zones are expected to be alert, forewarned and equipped to save lives and minimise disruption.

Last October’s tsunami off the west coast of Sumatra claimed more than 100 lives due to missing or non-operational warning buoys. Indonesia will be judged on its response to the next tsunami. Substantial international resources have been devoted to ensuring better outcomes.

Just as we were judged to have been inadequate in our efforts to prevent the terror of the second Bali bombings in 2005, and subsequently were sentenced to years of low visitor numbers and economic pain, we will be judged on our response to rabies and our preparedness to face other disasters.

Our island has grown up quickly. It has embraced the advantages of investment-driven growth. Many people drive or employ drivers for their new-model cars, send their children to preferred schools, own their own homes and take family holidays.

And that is terrific. However Bali, with the support of Jakarta, whose coffers are nicely enriched by taxes gathered here, must preserve its economy by returning the world’s respect for its environment and culture. Bali must make its people, guests and its reputation safe from rabies and it must show commitment and readiness to deal competently with the many natural and other disasters to which it is exposed.

Recent news that vital security procedures at the strategic entry point of Gilimanuk are wheeled out for VIP visitors and otherwise ignored demands investigation. If proven true, those responsible for such abject delinquency should face criminal charges.

Our international airport recently held a major emergency response exercise. One hopes something was lost in the translation, but the reported 30-minute duration of the exercise is pitiful for a scenario in which terrorism, death and injury landed at Ngurah Rai. This is a situation that takes days, maybe weeks to work through.

Your columnist was involved in monthly crisis response exercises at a major Australian city airport. Annually we were called out without notice for the big drill, which involved all emergency services, police, military, hospitals, local and overseas governments, embassies, airlines, community groups and so on. We operated in crisis conditions for 24 hours.

While none of us ever felt fully equipped to deal with a real disaster of any magnitude, there is no doubt we were far better primed professionally and emotionally to handle the casualties and damage, chaos, confusion and heartache that such an emergency would bring. And this would have been evident to observers.

So come on, Bali. Get serious about rabies elimination, security and crisis response. Show the world you care.

How could all that angst expressed by Balinese for failing to take care of their guests who were harmed in the bombings be so quickly dispelled? Bali will be judged very harshly if only another economic catastrophe, following preventable human loss, provokes responsible action.


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