Bali’s water crisis threatens local culture, UNESCO sites

JATILUWIH: Xa Baliof beaches and hotels, farmer I Ketut Jata stands on a mountainside, gazing at terraced fields too arid to cultivate. rice His family has long relied on food and income.
“It is no longer possible to work in the fields as a farmer,” he said.
Experts and environmental groups warn that Bali’s water crisis is made worse by tourism development, population growth and poor water management. Water shortages have been affecting UNESCO sites, water wells, food production and Balinese culture, and experts say the situation will get worse if current water control policies do not. implemented throughout the island.
A tropical volcanic island in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago, Bali relies on water from three main sources: crater lakes, rivers, and shallow groundwater. A unique traditional irrigation system, known as a “subak”, distributes water through a network of canals, dams and tunnels.
Subak, recognized by UNESCO in 2012, is the center of Balinese culture, representing the Balinese Hindu philosophy of “Tri Hita Karana”- harmony between man, nature and the spiritual realm.
“This is one of the very special cases of living landscapes in Asia,” said Feng Jing, who works with UNESCO in Bangkok.
The pressure is putting severe strain on the subak and other water sources, said Putu Bawa, project manager of the Bali Water Conservation program, run by a Bali-based NGO, the IDEP Foundation.
The island’s population has grown by more than 70% between 1980 and 2020, to 4.3 million, according to government census data. Tourism growth has been even more explosive: Less than 140,000 foreign visitors visited the island in 1980. By 2019, there were more than 6.2 million foreign visitors and 10.5 million domestic visitors. .
With a tourism boom, Bali’s economy has prospered – at a cost. Bawa said the rice fields that subak once walked through have been turned into golf courses and water parks, while forests that take natural water and are important to subak have been cut down to build villas and guests. new hotel, Bawa said.
Stroma Cole of the University of Westminster, who has studied the impact of tourism on Bali’s water supply, says another problem is that groundwater levels are falling as Bali’s residents and businesses rely on wells. or unregulated boreholes for clean water, instead of using government pipes. munition.
“Right now, this is the cheapest source of water for everyone to use,” says Cole. “So why don’t you use it?”
In less than a decade, Bali’s water table has sunk more than 50 meters (164 feet) in some areas, according to data provided by IDEP. Wells are running dry or have become saline, especially in the southern part of the island.
Cole said Bali has regulations – such as permits to use water and taxes on the water used – to manage the island’s water supply, but no enforcement.
“The rules that exist are great rules, but they’re not enforced,” she said.
The Bali Municipal Water Authority and Bali’s public works department did not respond to requests for comment.
The severe impact of the water crisis can be seen in Jatiluwih, northwest of Bali, where farmers tend to grow the island’s largest terraced rice.
For generations, the verdant terraces have relied on the subak system for irrigation. But for the past decade, farmers have had to import and pump water through white plastic pipes to irrigate fields.
Back in central Bali, Jata says he has tried growing cloves, which require less water. But the land – ideal for growing rice – and a lack of subak water have thwarted that plan.
“In the past, when the subak worked, the water was still good,” says Jata. “But so far there has been no result… the shrimp are all dead.”
According to Cole’s research, other farmers in Bali say they can only harvest one rice crop instead of two or three a year due to water interruptions. That could reduce food production on the island.
When Indonesia closed its borders at the height of the pandemic, Bali’s tourism plummeted. Environmentalists hope the closure will allow the island’s wells to recharge. IDEP is currently installing sensors in wells on the island for better water level monitoring research.
But development across the island continues, including a new government-backed toll road that activists say will further disrupt the subak system. New hotels, villas and other businesses are adding to the demand.
Bawa said tourism is key for Bali but also needs better enforcement and increased monitoring to protect the island’s water resources. “We need to do this together for the sake of the island’s existence.”


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