The Great Gunung Agung and the Displaced Balinese

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Following the months of turmoil amongst the displaced Balinese who live within the impact zone on Mount Agung our reporter describes their ordeal and imminent issues surrounding the volcano, those impacted by the volcanic activities and how we might start to address them.

On December 20, the Minister of Tourism Arief Yahya announced a new level two status for all areas outside the impacted zones. With this lowered alert status, the tourism industry could start promoting Bali on a large scale with a budget of Rp.100 billion, according to the minister. He went on to state that in the last 36 days the losses due to the lack of tourists have been about Rp.9 trillion with the national level at Rp.15 trillion.

According to the Center for Volcanology of Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMPG), the only alert given out is for the impacted zones around the volcano and not “for the rest of Bali.” The radius they describe is for the initial impact zone for an explosive eruption. Obviously government officials have overlooked issues such as the secondary effects of ash fall, pyroclastic and lahar (a type of mudflow or debris) that only nature can determine.

President Jokowi visited south Bali the weekend of December 22, walking along Kuta Beach, where he was happily escorted by Balinese and his many admirers. He had his picture taken with citizens and foreign tourists before going to the popular eatery Made’s Warung in Seminyak. The President and his wife Iriana had visited an evacuee camp in Klungkung on September 26, located in the Swecapura Sports Centre. It is one of 162 evacuee camps in Klungkung housing more than 19,456 people.

However, there is an elephant on the island of Bali and no one seems to be addressing its inherent issues properly at the national or international level. Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla did in fact express concern over the condition of evacuees, especially the seniors who are immobile in camps and children who are unable to attend school. After initial aid was sent consisting of food supplies and other staples, little has been said of the immediate problem of the evacuees and conditions they are living under or what will happen when they are able to return to their villages, if at all.

President Joko Widodo along with Vice President Kalla chaired a limited cabinet meeting in Bali on December 22 to assure the world that travel to Bali was safe, along with its readiness to receive as many tourists as possible.

The evacuation started on September 15. That is a long time to be living in a makeshift camp away from normal, daily life. The evacuees are from some of the communities that make up the backbone of Balinese culture and we must ensure their survival. Yet the camps are forgotten as tourism is promoted. The real issues to contend with at this point are disaster mitigation and community restoration and rehabilitation. It appears there is more interest in bringing foreign tourism back than addressing the needs of the Indonesian people in Bali. Tourism should not control policy making.

Speaking with Enong Ismael, a community leader who has been visiting many different camps, he expressed concern for the impact upon the daily lives of the displaced: ”More than half of the evacuees are from remote villages and know nothing of modern life or city life. They live close to nature, grow rice and other crops, tend their cows and chickens and pigs, and have a deep cultural and traditional life which revolves around their home temple and community temples. When it is a good day, some go back to their village to tend their crops and animals. But now, so much time has passed that the crops are ruined and the livestock has had to be sold off for a tiny percentage of its value. After the first few weeks all the shops are closed and the villages are ghost towns. The debt collectors are going to the camps and collecting bikes and phones and even deeds to land as 90 days have gone by a while ago and people have no income. The full effects of the evacuation are not known but the longer it continues, the more aid will be required to build the communities that are evacuated, if the areas even survive a volcanic eruption. The scarecrow in the camps is the debt collector.”

More than 150,000 people are homeless and that number is growing as drivers and those dependent on tourism lose their income.

However, during this period of slow tourism other problems have become all too obvious. Bali had a month of regular traffic flow at the peak of the tourism glut. It was obvious that the normal traffic at that time is exactly what the infrastructure could hold. Now Bali is back to gridlock but most tourists are domestic. The rivers carry plastic and debris down to the beaches which despite daily cleanings, are still covered in garbage, especially plastics. Garbage piles can be seen in front of temples such as Tanah Lot.

Perhaps it is time to invest in a more diverse economy. Tourism creates massive amounts of money into an economy from a single industry, creating dependence on foreign interest as it contributes to an uneven distribution of wealth. There remains a need for access to education in income generating professions other than hospitality. Bali has a long history of creating wealth through their creative arts and crafts where, in this high tech global economy, it can flourish. However, education is needed in various sectors such as the medical and legal professions in addition to technology.

Local farming can generate more income by becoming more diverse and adhering to organic standards. Even animal husbandry, if done properly and organically, will bring more profit. All these things mean more knowledge must be made available and economic support is required. Education is also needed in disaster mitigation training and drills. The current plan is not sufficient. Bali is a disaster prone area with landslides every rainy season and storm damage, not just a highly active volcano sitting on the Ring of Fire.

Most importantly the communities now displaced must survive, and support is needed right now. The Mount Agung Relief group is a group of NGOs and individuals who are putting together a pilot project in Tembok; an independent evacuee center in Buleleng to create a self- reliant model for evacuees that allows them to support themselves and have activities in a semi-temporary camp they could build themselves. The National Body for Disaster Mitigation [BNPD] has already committed to supporting the prototype with the possibility that it will be presented to the President for further expansion.

 

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Indonesia Expat is Indonesia's largest expatriate readership (formerly known as Jakarta Expat and Bali Expat)