An alarming freshwater crisis in Bali is being fuelled by rapid tourism development, according to experts.
Around 50 million people across Indonesia are being impacted by drought, according to the International Federation of Red Cross, as the country awaits an overdue wet season.
In Bali, more than half of the island’s rivers have run dry, with its largest water reserve, Lake Buyan, having dropped 3.5 metres, according to multiple reports citing analysis by Indonesia’s Environmental Protection Agency. The island’s traditional “subak” water irrigation system, used to water its crucial rice crops, is being threatened.
But a combination of drought and the diversion of more than half of the island’s water supply to urban development has pushed the region to the point of a freshwater crisis.
IDEP Foundation, an Indonesian non-government organisation focused on sustainable development, says Bali’s tourism industry uses as much as 65 per cent of the island’s water supply. The NGO has blamed much of the current crisis faced by the island on the industry.
“Tourism has sped up [the extent of drought] that is happening right now, which we could have expected to happen in maybe 20 or 30 years, but it’s happening now,” IDEP Foundation spokeswoman Dewie Anggraini told Deutsche Welle, as reported by Coconuts Bali.
Anggraini told the outlet withdrawal of freshwater had been excessive.
“Many freshwater exploitation happens in areas where there are many hotels and villas, which are usually used for tourism purposes.”
IDEP Foundation said in its 2018 annual report that a “decrease in groundwater level, followed by seawater intrusion into the aquifer layer” and “surface water pollution” are three things that indicate the problem.
“These issues [are] caused by tourism development that does not pay attention to the ecological balance,” the NGO said at the time.
According to local estimates, a single tourist at a resort in Bali uses between 2,000 and 4,000 litres of water a day. Huge amounts of water are used to fill resort swimming pools and maintain gardens and golf courses enjoyed by tourists, as well as in the construction of new villas and tourist facilities.
Bali’s freshwater scarcity problem is ludicrous, an academic says
Stroma Cole, a senior lecturer in tourism geography at the University of the West of England, has authored a scientific paper on Bali’s drying rivers.
She told Al Jazeera that while saltwater intrusion into freshwater had mainly been in the south, it has recently spread across the island.
“One can say the drought in the north, east and west has nothing to do with tourism because there’s very little tourism there and it’s always been chronically dry,” Cole told the outlet.
“But water from the lakes can be equitably distributed across the island, or it can be massively overused for tourism, as is happening now. They’re damming rivers to divert water to the south whereas they could be directing it up north.
“The villages up there aren’t dry because of drought. They’re dry because of politics, because of choices that are being made.”
Cole has warned the problem is likely to worsen.
“Bali’s freshwater scarcity problem is only expected to get worse unless there is a paradigm shift in the mass tourism model and they embrace quality sustainable tourism,” she said.
“It’s ludicrous that a tropical island is running short of water.”