He’s done some horrific time in a filthy Kerobokan prison cell, receives death threats more regularly than an granny has afternoon tea with her friends and yes, this activist turned lawyer admits that he often gets scared. And although he might slow down when he does, he never gives up. One foot in front of the next, this man against the machine is intellectually armed and dangerous, The Beat man Rudoph Dethu catches up with Bali’s numero uno activist and hero of the people.
Back in the early days, you were protesting mostly about social injustice and political offence, but today you seem to have shifted your focus to environmental problems. What made you migrate from bigger to smaller issues?
Ha! No, no, there’s no such thing as migrating issues in what I’ve been doing. It’s interesting you ask that though because, in the past, the public may have noticed me more for my work in the areas of social injustice, political crimes, and human rights but, for me, all these things are interconnected. Beginning with my days as a student activist, when the passion I have for such issues first ignited, the environment began to play heavily on my mind, and today it remains as significant an issue as ever. Remember me campaigning against the Serangan Island and Padanggalak Beach land reclaim issues, Pemaron’s coal fired power station and so forth?
You see, when you dig deeper, you’ll find that underneath the environmental disputes there are always so many more complex issues; it’s inevitably so much bigger! Don’t get me wrong, in many cases it’s still about environmental justice because a big part of human rights is that the people should share a basic right to live in a clean and well-respected environment.
How bad a disaster is Bali’s environment? Who do you think should be responsible for all this ecological degradation?
Based on environmental research data, the natural environment here in Bali is already on the brink, you might say ravished to ruin. We need to take urgent positive action if we are to have a chance at turning this destruction around because each day Bali’s wounds gets deeper and becomes more obvious. If my words don’t have an impact, the following statistics might shock some of you into action:
For starters, the Minister for the Environment has predicted that Bali will soon be in the midst of a severe water crisis, requiring as much as 27.6 billion cubic meters per year by 2015. Based on this need, the Environmental Agency of Bali Province recently released a statement explaining that by 2015 Bali will be water deficit.
You might also like to keep in mind that, here in Bali, we have 162 rivers, and 34 of them are in a critical condition. Destruction has, and continues to be predominantly caused by the development of tourism facilities like hotels and restaurants along river edges, as well as thanks to the regular removal of river rocks, which are popular material for stone carvings.
With regard to forested areas, the Environmental Research Centre at Udayana University suggests that only 27.3 percent of Bali’s forested land remains, approximately 127 hectares of coverage, and at least 18.4 percent of this is in super bad condition. By October 2007, forest fires had burnt through 264.3 hectares, and at least ten cases of illegal logging and other forms of forest mutilation has destroyed 12,720.856 hectares.
And then we come to Bali’s infamous beaches. I bet you don’t realise that it has been officially acknowledged that there’s at least 140 spots of erosion on the coastal lines of Bali and the the Bali Provincial Environmental Agency has confirmed that there are 13 significant water pollution sites.
On top of this, Bali is also threatened by seawater intrusion. In Southern parts of Bali, like Pemogan and Sesetan, this seawater intrusion has reached 100 meters below sea level. This intrusion problem is spreading quickly; in Denpasar intrusion has a depth of around 25 meters but, you watch, it’s not going to take long to reach a more critical point. And it’s the same story for North Bali too.
Does this make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
It shouldn’t, it’s awful and I have oh so much more data that I could share but it would take up all the pages of this magazine to list them all so, long story short, Bali is racing in the fast lane, racing down the highway to hell.
You asked me who should be responsible for this catastrophe? I’d have to say that it’s nobody but the government. The nation, the state, the government! I think it’s their responsibility to promote, to protect, and to fulfill the people’s basic rights to a decent quality, healthy environment. People pay taxes and, in a perfect world, the government is supposed to make sure that the taxpayers, we the people, are looked after.
So water, soil and forest are the three biggest problems that Bali needs to sort out? And fast?!
Yes, those three things are closely related to Balinese culture because we are an agricultural society, and agrarian culture depends on two main sources; water and soil. When these two elements are in crisis it means that Balinese culture is in a state of degradation too and, as Bali is fundamentally dependent on what people call “cultural tourism,” when Balinese culture is rotten, we are screwed. I mean, what else will Bali be able offer to tourists?
You don’t seem to be much of a tourism fan!
That’s a premature conclusion! Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m definitely aware that the economy of Bali is most prominently energised by the tourism sector but, on the other hand,
as I said, if Bali is primarily sold as a cultural tourism destination, then Bali, as a destination, should be serious about maintaining its agrarian culture. It’s important to understand that if we remain careless with our culture and allow the savage exploitation of our water and soil to continue, the consequence to both culture and tourism will be absolute deterioration. We will have nothing left.
In saying that, I support Bali tourism—but only quality tourism—tourism that is not exploitative to its natural resources and doesn’t disgrace the culture here. We don’t want what I like to call mining industry tourism. Balinese are taught Tri Hita Karana, and because of this, in our day-to-day activities we are instructed to take care of the environment, in whatever we do. When the beach is polluted, the groundwater brackish, the forest without trees, and the rice fields have become industrial zones, Bali will end up being Bali minus agrarian culture, and what is Bali then? What else can we offer? So, there you go, the answer is that quality tourism needs to exist parallel with Tri Hita Karana philosophy.
How’s the government responding to all your protests?
I keep shouting, screaming, and writing complaints but, even though I’m doing this, the government hasn’t accommodated the protests. To me this means that they are clueless. In truth, the government has no adaptive policies for environmental troubleshooting.
More often than not, our protests have been regarded as destructive moves rather than constructive solutions and, as our protests are not considered serious, they have been responded to with unproductive statements, responses which can only be described as a significant disrespect upon our right to express our perspectives—rights which are supposedly guaranteed by Indonesian law.
In a few of these cases, such statements from the government have forced us, Walhi, to sue the Governor through the Denpasar Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. In one such case, permission was given to PT Tirta Rahmat Bahari to manage the mangrove park of Ngurah Rai. There have also been many cases where the governor has let developments go ahead even though they are in complete breech of environmental law.
But the same thing has happened with the parliament, especially Commission III, which focuses on environment. It’s a complete joke. There are times when they act as if they appreciate our activities, and support us by, say, releasing harsh statements to environmental criminals, but then they retract. All of a sudden they just change; they’ll swing from angry to a bit calmer, from calm to taking sides, and then wham, they make us their enemy!
It was a bit of a sad joke when the Secretary of Commission III asked us to send a letter of admonition to the Badung Regent regarding the development of Hotel Mulia in Nusa Dua. Oh, and also when the general public requested to know how come Commission III weren’t progressing with the mangrove park problem, they said that they are waiting for Walhi to send a formal letter to the court. Isn’t it a little weird how legislative action is dependent on us initiating a move? I mean, isn’t that their job?
Some people say that the institution that you are the head of, Wahli, is secretly driven by overseas interests and by new cultural imperialists…
I’m not at all interested in answering this kind of shallow rumour. I am, we are, openly driven by our conscience, by our idealism. Next question, please.
How can we keep Bali beautiful? Can you enlighten me, and the rest of the people out there, in three easy steps?
1. Start living an environmentally friendly kind of life. Don’t just talk about slogans and teachings such as Tri Kita Karana, apply them in your actual life.
2. Watch over policies regarding environment, and then promote the information. You can start by searching for, sharing and discussing issues using social media.
3. Get out of the house and participate. Rally, protest, be a part of positive change. To participate, you don’t need no money, just a whole lot of spirit!
Well, no, sorry, I don’t want you to think it’s going to be easy. You know how they say that it’s not easy being green? It’s true, but if we work hard, if we all go green together, it’ll be way easier.
Last nagging words?
“The world is big enough to satisfy everyone needs, but will always be too small to satisfy everyone’s greed.” Those are Ghandi’s words.