In­side the all-Ba­li­nese, grass-roots po­lit­i­cal move­ment try­ing to take back the is­land.

Tracks - - Contents - JED SMITH

It was bound to hap­pen. You can only push a peo­ple so far and dam­age a place so bad be­fore there’s blow-back. The Tolak Rekala­masi move­ment – a Ba­li­nese grass roots en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and an­tide­vel­op­ment cam­paign – ap­pears to be it. “A lot of peo­ple think Ba­li­nese just sit back, re­lax and be lazy … but after this it’s ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing a move­ment and sol­i­dar­ity ‘cos we love the is­land and we don’t wanna let it get ru­ined,” ex­plains Mega Se­madhi, the Hindu priest from Bali’s Bukit Penin­sula and two-time win­ner of the Rip Curl Cup Padang. What be­gan in 2014 in re­sponse to plans to de­velop the sa­cred Hindu site at Benoa Har­bour on the is­land’s east coast, has to­day be­come a catch-all for Ba­li­nese an­gry at the greed, cor­rup­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion run­ning roughshod over the is­land and its peo­ple. “After this Reklamasi thing peo­ple look after the en­vi­ron­ment more. It is af­fect­ing them, like, ‘Oh, we have to look after the is­land more.’ They re­alise we stand to­gether and we have to be aware of our en­vi­ron­ment and our area,” says Mega. Led by ban­jars from across the is­land along with a hand­ful of Bali’s lead­ing ac­tivists and celebri­ties, in­clud­ing punk rock le­gend, Jer­inx, from Su­per­man Is Dead and Robi Suprianto, from Nav­ic­ula, the move­ment is shap­ing up as a water­shed mo­ment in the fight to save Bali. “(It’s) the big­gest in his­tory and the long­est too,” Jer­inx tells Tracks, adding of the mo­ti­va­tion, “It’s the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of so many in­jus­tice to­wards lo­cal peo­ple in Bali. And this case (Benoa Har­bour) dis­plays ev­ery­thing we’ve been des­per­ately fight­ing against since Soe­harto be­came pres­i­dent – top level con­spir­acy, cor­rupted gov­ern­ment, heart­less tourism in­dus­try, etcetera,” he says. Be­ing an ac­tivist in In­done­sia is dan­ger­ous work. This is a coun­try which slaugh­tered up to a mil­lion left-lean­ing stu­dents, civil­ians and politi­cians dur­ing the 1965 CIA-backed rise of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor turned pres­i­dent, Soe­harto. In the 20 years since Jer­inx first took to the streets in protest against Soe­harto, he and his fol­low­ers

have been the sub­ject of nu­mer­ous death threats and at­tempts on their life, in­clud­ing a friend who had acid thrown at his face in a Ja­vanese ho­tel lobby, in an at­tack that was meant for Jer­inx. “When you’re stand­ing up against greedy in­vestors or fas­cism, they al­ways have mil­i­tary or pow­er­ful fig­ures be­hind them, and it’s been proven. Farm­ers got shot pro­tect­ing their land. Stu­dents kid­napped after protest­ing against greedy in­vest­ments. Some never found. Some dead,” he says. The Tolak Reklamasi showdown is shap­ing up much the same with the in­fa­mous In­done­sian busi­ness­man Tommy Wi­nata lurk­ing in the back­ground. “In our per­spec­tive he’s like the ‘real’ In­done­sian pres­i­dent. He’s got the army, in­tel­li­gence, po­lice and, of course, our ‘of­fi­cial’ pres­i­dents be­hind his back,” says Jer­inx. The sta­tis­tics make for sober­ing read­ing. So far more than half of Bali’s 400 rivers have run dry, lead­ing ex­perts to de­clare Bali is in the midst of a “wa­ter cri­sis.” That might sound im­pos­si­ble for an is­land drenched by an­nual mon­soons and flood­ing but with­out recharge wells to re­di­rect the down­pours back un­der­ground much of it is wasted. Mean­while, as much as 65 per­cent of Bali’s fresh ground­wa­ter con­tin­ues to be drawn out of the aquifer by the tourism in­dus­try via high-tech bore sys­tems, where­upon it is pumped into ho­tel rooms, vil­las, golf cour­ses and the count­less con­struc­tion projects across the is­land. Ho­tel rooms and vil­las alone con­sume some 3000 litres of wa­ter, much of it in the form of ex­ces­sive show­er­ing and wash­ing. As the fresh wa­ter gets used up, salt wa­ter has be­gun pour­ing into the aquifer in its place, com­pound­ing the prob­lem. “Coastal ar­eas where aquifers con­tinue to be over-ex­ploited will suf­fer fur­ther leak­age of salt wa­ter into ground­wa­ter, which is for­ever non-re­versible, mean­ing to­tal de­pen­dence on ex­pen­sive de­sali­na­tion plants to treat sea­wa­ter for Bali res­i­den­tial, agri­cul­ture and tourism wa­ter sup­plies,” ex­plains Ida Ba­gus Putu Bin­tana, a civil en­gi­neer­ing re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity Politknik Negeri Bali. “The more tourism goes up, the more the level of the wa­ter table goes down,” adds Ju­lian Goal­abre, a spokesper­son for IDEP, an NGO mon­i­tor­ing Bali’s wa­ter prob­lem. “So in the short term, wa­ter is not a prob­lem. But in the long term it will be a much big­ger is­sue be­cause the wa­ter table is go­ing down, and in all coastal ar­eas there is salt wa­ter in­tru­sion.” Of the rivers that haven’t run dry, many more are clogged with the 11,000 cu­bic tonnes of waste that’s left un­col­lected on the streets of Bali each day – much of which flows straight into the ocean dur­ing the wet sea­son. The re­sults have been well doc­u­mented and the need for a so­lu­tion is ur­gent, says Ba­li­nese pro surfer, Betet ‘Da Guy’ Merta. “It’s pretty fucked up. Pretty much we un­der­stand, the lo­cal surfers un­der­stand what is go­ing on, be­cause we need to pro­tect the beach, the surfer pro­tect the beach be­cause we live in the beach, so if the beach die we die too,” he says. “But the taxi driver, he don’t care about surf­ing. The guy in the res­tau­rant he throw (rub­bish) in the river. It’s hard. They don’t use the ocean. They don’t care. Not a lot of In­done­sians surf… Peo­ple come from Java, from all over the coun­try, and just trash the beach… I see peo­ple just empty their cars at the beach,” he says. Then there are the waves, sev­eral of which have been ru­ined, pri­va­tised or put un­der se­ri­ous threat by ram­pant coastal devel­op­ment around the is­land. The lat­est is Seran­gan, the uber-con­sis­tent, some­times world class reef break on Bali’s east coast, which was re­cently cut off to the pub­lic

pend­ing the con­struc­tion of a 500 hectare so-called “eco-devel­op­ment,” which will in­clude a har­bour for lux­ury yachts, lux­ury vil­las, and a space age au­di­to­rium where “au­then­tic” Ba­li­nese cul­ture and dance can be viewed by wealthy guests. “The coastal com­mu­nity has both the eco­log­i­cal and the so­cio-cul­tural po­ten­tials to be­come a lu­cra­tive tourist des­ti­na­tion in an en­vi­ron­ment where tourism flour­ishes,” reads the web­site of its Sin­ga­pore-based de­vel­oper. Along with Seran­gan, the world class triple bar­rel right hand reef­break near Nusa Dua, called Nikkos, has all but been de­stroyed by a break wall built at the foot of the take off spot. The wave is now rife with deadly back­wash, mak­ing it un­pre­dictable, dan­ger­ous, and closer to three sep­a­rate sec­tions in­stead of one triple sec­tion drainer. Kera­mas is also said to have been af­fected by a sea­wall built through the river that feeds the wave by a Jarkata-based landowner neigh­bour­ing the wave. A short drive from Kera­mas an­other hol­low right reef, which we’ve cho­sen not to name, has also been af­fected by a sea­wall built along the shore to pro­tect lux­ury vil­las from coastal ero­sion. Tracks has also seen plans for a large scale devel­op­ment at Canggu, in­clud­ing a jetty built straight through the right-hand river mouth reef break pre­vi­ously used as the back-up venue for the World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships. A re­cent protest against the plans at­tracted hun­dreds of lo­cal and trav­el­ling surfers, while be­tween 50 and 60 peo­ple took part in a pad­dle out. It re­mains un­clear whether the planned jetty through the wave will go ahead. “Project still on. Jetty is hope­fully off,” the Bali-Based Asian Surf­ing Tour pres­i­dent, Tipi Jabrik, wrote to Tracks via email, adding of the lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity, “We only care to save the wave, if the project doesn’t harm the wave it’s all good.

“Vil­lages have their right to do any devel­op­ment but it must be in the right ways. The waves are their as­sets too,” he wrote. Ba­li­nese pro surfer, Mar­lon Ger­ber, warned to ex­pect more and more over the com­ing years as tourism on the is­land piv­ots away from its tra­di­tional surf­ing roots. “Bali right now, they want the masses of buses and Chi­nese,” he says. “Like Pan­dawa beach (near Nusa Dua, also the scene of a mono­lithic devel­op­ment project). They want all the beaches like that be­cause it brings a lot of cash. At Nyang Nyang they’re carv­ing out the cliff so buses can drive down there. They had 300 steps but now this beau­ti­ful lime­stone cliff has been carved out with roads go­ing down there to tar­get those peo­ple, the bus­loads,” he says. In de­stroy­ing some of the is­land’s best waves and pol­lut­ing the oth­ers, Bali risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg but Mar­lon says that doesn’t rate a men­tion with the money-hun­gry pow­ers that be. “Of course the wave is not their pri­or­ity they don’t even re­alise they’re af­fect­ing this wave. They’re just think­ing peo­ple, mass tourism and money. I don’t think they re­alise what they’re do­ing to the waves,” he says. It’s not just surfers feel­ing the pinch. Lo­cals too are suf­fer­ing more than ever as pres­sure on the is­land’s en­vi­ron­ment and in­fras­truc­ture con­tinue to mount. “The ef­fects on the peo­ple – they’re stressed here now be­cause there is so much devel­op­ment, there is pres­sure, it cre­ates anx­i­ety for them and I feel that too from liv­ing here, but luck­ily my main fo­cus is surf, so I’m not re­ally in that race but for other peo­ple I see it with my friends, to take ad­van­tage of this boom that Bali is go­ing through right now. It cre­ates stress you know,” says Mar­lon. Tolak Reklamasi is shap­ing up as Bali’s only hope and Mar­lon, whose friends are in the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, says peo­ple are ready to shed blood for it. “If this hap­pens, this Tolak Reklamasi at Benoa, there is gonna be blood. I’m sure the peo­ple are gonna fight, the lo­cals are gonna fight for this one,” he says.

Photo: Childs.

Be­neath the com­mer­cial ve­neer, Bali’s cul­tural roots still run deep. A Ba­li­nese troupe per­forms a tra­di­tional Ke­cak dance.

Photo Re­spon­dek.

Main: Canggu has long been a prov­ing ground for lo­cal rip­pers, a sta­ple for trav­el­ling surfers and a clip fac­tory for the world’s best. Now it’s also un­der threat from a break­wall devel­op­ment.

Photo Childs.

Left: Nikkos reef reel­ing in the shadow of cranes be­fore a break­wall all but de­stroyed it.

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