Water shortages in Bali are getting worse as a result of tourism development, together with an increasing population and poor water management, and are threatening local culture, informs Associated Press.
Bali is the larger island in the Indonesian province of the same name and the country’s main tourist destination. Water on the island comes from three main sources: crater lakes, rivers, and shallow groundwater. A cooperative water management system of canals and weirs, known as subak, had been in place since the 9th century. The subak system is part of the cultural landscape of the island and has been part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2012.
Rice, the water that sustains it and the subak system have shaped Bali’s landscape for the past thousand years and are an integral part of religious life. The subak system reflects the philosophical principle of Tri Hita Karana that brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature.
But increased water demand has put pressure on the subak and other water resources, according to Putu Bawa, with the Bali Water Protection program, led by Balinese non-government organizarion IDEP Foundation.
The island’s population increased by more than 70% in forty years to reach 4.3 million in 2020, while the growth of the tourism industry was even greater, from less than 140,000 foreign tourists in 1980, to more than 6.2 million in 2019, in addition to 10.5 million domestic tourists.
In fact, businesses related to tourism make up to 80% of Bali’s thriving economy, but tourism has had a significant impact on the island’s water supplies, as in many areas forests and rice fields have given way to golf courses and hotels.
Although water use regulations exist, they are not enforced, explains researcher Stroma Cole from the University of Westminster. Residents and businesses use unregulated wells as a cheap source of water. IDEP’s data indicates the water table has dropped more than 50 metres in certain areas in less than ten years, and salt intrusion is becoming a problem especially in the south.
As farmers can no longer rely on the subak system for irrigation, some have tried to switch from rice to less water intensive crops such as cloves; others have gone from two or three rice harvests per year to only one, due to water disruptions.
As tourism development continues on the island, adding to water demand, water shortages are expected to worsen unless enforcement of water control policies and water resource monitoring are prioritised.