Perfect Storm

This weekend, I was due to fly to Bali for an immersive yoga retreat. The retreat was to be the highlight of my 200 hour yoga teacher training. Many hours of study had bought me to this point and I was really looking forward to soaking up some tropical Bali sun after a long Melbourne winter.

No one could have predicted the events that have since unfolded. Mt Agung, an active volcano, has been showing signs of an imminent eruption, though the timing and scale is unpredictable. The Governor of Bali declared a natural disaster ahead of the eruption and local villages within the 12km exclusion zone were ordered to evacuate.

Despite the airports and popular tourist destinations remaining open, Bali is in the midst of a slow onset natural disaster and large-scale humanitarian emergency. More than 140, 000 people have been internally displaced and the number of people living in emergency shelters are increasing.

Humanitarian aid organisations such as the Indonesian Red Cross are coordinating emergency preparedness operations. There have been local reports that many of the emergency shelters are overcrowded and facing dire resource shortages – inadequate shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation. International aid is flowing into Bali as well as in-kind donations from local NGO’s and community members.

There have been reports that ‘good face masks’ have sold out across Bali, leaving those displaced without basic protective equipment needed in the event of an eruption. The yoga retreat I was booked into is a 10 minute drive from Klungkung Regency, the second largest emergency evacuation centre in Bali.

The local government say there are too many people seeking protection in emergency shelters. They say these people live outside the exclusion zone and don’t need to be there. But, how can you blame them? Many can still recall the 1963 eruption of Mt Agung which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and continued to erupt for a year. The present eruption threat is triggering past trauma and people are fearful.

Deciding whether to travel to Bali during such a precarious time is complex and entirely personal. Bali is a tourist-based economy and a decline in the tourism sector will affect local people’s livelihoods and standard of living.

However, mass tourism in Bali is a double-edged sword. Yes, tourism boosts the local economy, however this wealth is concentrated to urban centres and does not reach people living in rural areas. The number of people living in poverty in rural Bali remains unacceptably high despite mass tourism.

Mass tourism is also unsustainable and drains precious natural assets such as clean drinking water, food, healthcare, electricity and transport. Bali’s Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has described tourism in Bali as ‘a disaster for the poor’ and has been working hard to alleviate poverty in Bali.

Natural disaster zones in developing countries are not places tourists should visit. Tourists place further stress on an already strained system and divert scarce physical and human resources such as clean drinking water, food, shelter, protective equipment, communications and transport away from local people who have been displaced and need life saving resources the most.

This creates a second tiered emergency and takes life saving resources away from the actual emergency response. Based on the reports I’m seeing and my experience working in the humanitarian sector, it is my professional judgment that a perfect storm is developing to create a second tiered emergency. I simply cannot be part of this and believe I will be more effective supporting the Balinese community from home.

This is why I have decided not to travel to Bali this weekend to participate in the yoga retreat. This has had a big impact on me financially and the flow on effect of not participating in the retreat means I will not be able to continue my yoga teacher training. However, when I think of the 140, 000 people who have been displaced, my own disappointments are put into sharp perspective.

No amount of ‘positive vibing’ or ‘surrendering to the unknown’ on retreat will alleviate the fear and suffering of local people sheltering in emergency centers just 10 minutes away. Their fear is real. Their anguish is real. I refuse to be blinded by my own privilege. For me, no yoga retreat or teacher training should ever cost this much.

In the words of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh,

“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?”

Have an up coming trip to Bali and reconsidering your need to travel?

I highly recommend you follow Dr Janine Krippner on Twitter – she is a volcanologist and has been doing an incredible job translating the latest official information relating to Mt Agung, specifically for travellers and expats. She has compiled all the essential information on her blog In the Company of Volcanoes, which I also highly recommend you read.

Mum Travel Diaries has a blog specifically for travellers which clearly lists everything you should consider before you take off.

Want to help but unsure how?

Australian’s have a close affinity with Bali and in times of disaster many of us feel the urge to help. While helping is excellent, as donors, we must be responsible! This USAID Centre for International Disaster Information article speaks directly to in-kind donations including unskilled volunteering. It’s a must read!

Why is giving cash often the best way to help during humanitarian emergencies? USAID’s Centre for International Disaster Information give an excellent insight in this article – Why Cash is Best.

Photo credit: The Australian

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