Wed, 31 Mar 1999

Kuta being choked by business activities

By Putu Wirata

DENPASAR (JP): Kuta, in Bali, famous for its beautiful beach and its tourist industry, has for a long time been far from the ideal tropical retreat many tourists long for.

Kuta is now better known for its many hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, bungalows, art shops, slum areas, vagrants and beggars, street prostitutes and hawkers using all the available space on the sidewalks. All of which contributes to make Kuta a suffocating place.

"Kuta is fine for business but it is not agreeable for living except for the area away from the main road," said Samun Fakhruddin, a migrant from South Sulawesi who owns the Goa 2001 pub and Taj Mahal discotheque and restaurant.

However, he said, whatever the amount of noise and dirt, "People will flock here to look for entertainment and to make a living," he said with a laugh.

The original inhabitants of Kuta have similar complaints. "Kuta is choking and not pleasant to live in," said a Kuta resident who refused to give his name. "The migrants hawking on the sidewalks, beggars, prostitutes and the daily traffic congestion make it impossible for us to get a good rest."

"The government should take steps to stop them. The sidewalks are for pedestrians, not for people to sell belts, toys and souvenirs," he said.

Officials in charge of maintaining public order seem powerless against the traders. "We hold raids in a routine fashion. However, they come in great numbers. It is difficult to maintain order. If we catch them now, they will hit the streets again one hour after they are released," said Sang Made Aren, head of the community welfare organization (LKMD).

Hawkers, although they wear uniforms and are told to be courteous when selling their wares, are constantly shouting and have been known to physically drag visitors over to get them to buy their merchandise.

The sidewalk traders are not solely responsible for making Kuta noisy and crowded though. Migrants living and working on the streets number in the thousands, and thousands of tourists still spend their holidays in Kuta. Beggars seem to be everywhere.

"Yes, Kuta has become that way now. It seems impossible to bring order to it," said a security guard at a big restaurant on Jl. Raya Kuta.

Many tourists pass by the restaurant, where scores of small children and mothers carrying babies accost visitors and hold out their cupped hands. "All I can do is prevent them from entering the restaurant. If the beggars are in the restaurant they will annoy the guests. It will harm the business. The owner will dismiss me," the guard said.

Apparently it is not only social pollution that is a burden to Kuta. The environment is contaminated by dust and loud noise. The Kuta Community Health Center, in its 1997 research on a number of main streets in Kuta, found that noise pollution had reached an alarming level.

According to the study, the daytime noise level was measured in front of the health center at 73 decibels, and outside the Natour Hotel at 60 decibels. The normal maximum allowable daytime noise is set at 60 decibels.

In the evening the noise level was still high, recording 68 and 50 decibels respectively. The evening noise level limit is set at a maximum of 45 decibels.

With the level of noise in excess of these standards, Kuta residents, especially those whose houses are close to the busy areas, cannot get the rest they need.

As well as the many motor vehicles on the roads, discotheques, karaoke bars, pubs and restaurants often have their sound systems working full blast. Live music groups are also equipped with deafening loudspeakers.

Air pollution should not be played down either. A study conducted by the Kuta Community Health Center showed that the dust particle content of the air in parts of Kuta reached 0.43 milligrams per cubic meter.

According to a decree issued by the Minister of the Environment dated Jan. 19, 1998, the maximum level should not exceed 0.260 milligrams per cubic meter.

The air and noise pollution afflicting Kuta is mainly a result of the rapid population growth. The population in 1993 was less than 100,000. It had increased to more than 150,000 by 1998.

Physical development of the tourist center is accompanied by noisy and dusty construction sites. Exhaust fumes are released by the increasing numbers of motor vehicles plying the streets.

Many people from outside Bali have descended on Kuta to earn their livings as construction workers, hotel and restaurant employees, sidewalk traders, prostitutes and beggars.

In a move to reduce traffic congestion in Kuta, buses longer than 15 meters are prohibited from entering the town. The Badung regional administration has built a parking center on Jl. Imam Bonjol, especially for long-chassis buses. However, the environment around Kuta has not dramatically improved.

Yunik Kuncaraning from Kuta's environment impact management agency expressed her concerns over the tourist center's pollution problem. She was quoted by Nusa Tenggara daily on March 3 as saying that air and noise pollution is particularly harmful for pregnant women. She said it could affect the IQ potential of unborn babies.

Environment and culture observer Nyoman Gelebet spoke of a master plan proposed by a French research institute, SCETO, in the 1970s. Based on their design, only smaller non star-rated hotels would be permitted on the Kuta coast. The tourist facilities in the region would be managed in such a way that the local community would not be disturbed in their observance of traditional ceremonies.

However, the government issued permits to build star-rated hotels in large numbers, and allowed them to be built right on the beach.

"I am fed up with criticizing the government because they never listen," Gelebet said.