Indonesia: Heightened Water Insecurity Threatens Rice Farming and Tourism in Bali

11 December 2019 Mervyn Piesse, Research Manager, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme


Drought has affected almost every province in Indonesia, weakening the water security of approximately 50 million people. Heightened water insecurity could also affect the country’s main tourist destination as, according to an Al Jazeera report, Bali is ‘running out of water’.


As Bali receives an average of more than 1,200 millimetres of rainfall a year, it is unlikely that it will “run out of water” as reported. The real problem relates to the overuse and over-allocation of water. Reducing water use is likely to be difficult, as the tourism sector is the main water consumer and tourism operators are likely to be reluctant to significantly limit their water usage. While some resorts have installed water saving devices and encourage guests to reduce their water use, those measures are unlikely to go far enough to reverse the unsustainable use of water.

A 2015 report stated that freshwater aquifers in Bali were close to being depleted. At the time they were at record low levels of less than 20 per cent of their usual capacity. The IDEP Foundation, an Indonesian non-governmental organisation, which focusses on sustainable development, reported that the water table had dropped by more than 50 metres in some areas (particularly in the south of the island) over a period of ten years. The IDEP predicted that unless water conservation strategies were enacted, the island would face an ‘ecological crisis before 2020’.

The IDEP claims that the tourism industry uses 65 per cent of the Balinese water supply. Tourism is the main economic sector on the island – 80 per cent of its gross domestic product is derived from the industry. Estimates indicate that the average tourist uses three times more water than a local Balinese person. As a result, demand for water is greater than the natural supply; water is being used faster than it is replaced. Seawater is increasingly infiltrating aquifers, which both pollutes those water sources and undermines agricultural production.

Rice farming is still a major component of the Balinese economy and culture, especially in less visited areas. It faces challenges from declining productivity, increased operating costs, water shortages and soil degradation. This has led to fewer young people engaging in agriculture on the island, mainly because their parents discourage them from entering the industry.

IDEP has suggested two supply-side solutions to alleviate Bali’s rising water insecurity: artificial aquifer recharge and desalination. Water directed to rain-fed open wells could be pumped back into aquifers using gravity, which would reduce both pressure on aquifers and seawater infiltration. Rainwater harvesting tanks could also be utilised for that purpose. Desalination is a more expensive option, which requires large capital expenditure to establish and ongoing operation and maintenance. It is also an energy-intensive solution that is unlikely to be economical for the island’s rice farmers, even if it is funded by the tourism industry or government.

Small-scale desalination and artificial aquifer recharge could take some of the pressure off Balinese water sources, freeing up water for use in the agricultural sector. In the long term, however, water demand will also need to be reduced to ensure that supplies remain stable.

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