Gili Air : Case Study

Gili Air is a small island off the northern coast of Lombok, a well known tourist destination in Indonesia. Lombok and the extended islands of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan are destinations for honeymooners, surfers and backpackers. Tourism is almost the sole economy on these three islands, with the other small percentage made up of agriculture and the export of textiles and goods. The local and foreign business owners cater towards visitors by providing food, lodging, entertainment and transportation. It is a singular economy, but one that is very efficient and highly supportive to the locals, especially with the low value of the Indonesian Rupiah. It is also an economy that can be relied upon. With such a beautiful destination, it is understood that if the above services are provided for, people will pay to come and visit. Lombok in contrast with Palu highlighted what happens when the same disaster event hits the same country but differs in recovery and response time. In Gili Air, the rebuild timeline was drastically different because of the alteration of a few simple variables.  In this case, tourism and extent of damage. 

When the earthquake hit, just a few days before it hit Palu, there was a mass exodus of people. Everyone who had the means to get off the island left. But a few stayed. The ones who chose to stay were a surprising mix of short-term tourists, longer-term backpackers, and Indonesians from other parts of the country. This is what the locals gravitate towards talking about, they were amazed by the willingness of others to put their plans on hold and help. It reinvigorated the locals acceptance of tourism as not only an economic stimulation but also as the human life blood of the island, running on the good will and kind nature of others.

When everyone tells their story about the disaster they don’t mention the bad things. They state what happened as facts and then jump into talking about the good things that came because of it. They talk about community strength and help and bouncing back quickly and tourists staying to help throughout the whole thing. In Palu too it was talked mostly about how amazing it was that the community came together in a way that had never before happened.

When the government didn’t follow through on the 25 million IDR per family that had been promised in disaster relief funds, people were struggling to rebuild their business and homes with the 3 million they did receive (only about $215 USD). There was also a lag time in when the government could coordinate and send aid in supplies to Gili Air. One business owner, a foreigner who had been living there for 3 years at the time of the earthquake took it upon himself to help. He chartered private planes to bring in building materials and other necessary supplies, using only personal funds. He spent about $3 million USD on food, water, aid tents. Stories like this came up over and over again. Tourists who skipped their boats off the island to stay and help with the clean-up. Who instead paid the local captains to take them to Lombok to pick up supplies, and then came right back. The fact that some tourists didn’t run when it got tough renewed local hope in tourists and tourism. The locals weren’t so jaded by connecting tourists only with money, the people on the island understand that there is a reason people come here. The shared love of a beautiful place and a beautiful culture and community.

The role of the government in Lombok seems unusual from a first world country looking in, but is actually very common for Indonesia and other developing countries. When the earthquake hit, they didn’t declare a state of emergency. The declaration would have held the government to its promise of $25 million IDR in aid per family, the promise which served as the platform for the newly elected president who visited families affected by the disaster. It would have gotten the rest of the world involved with supplies and volunteers. They would have had to explain why the alarm system didn’t work to warn citizens of the imminent danger. As it stood without the admission of needing aid, no volunteer groups were allowed, and those that did come anyway were getting kicked out of the country after their 30 day tourism visa limit was reached. Foreign aid didn’t come except from the foreigners with ties to the country and means to help on their own accord. The help had to come from within the country and within the community.

In the Muslim religion, as with in Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism, it is customary to give offerings to the gods. This generosity is so embedded in the everyday manner of conducting oneself. Everyone is used to the act of giving. Giving lots of food and gifts as in the picture above. When it came to helping each other out and giving even that which you don’t have enough of for yourself, there was never a second thought.

Because of the amount of support in rebuilding that Gili Air received, the island bounced back only one month after earthquake. Two months after, tourists started arriving again and business commenced as usual. Being there showed almost no indication that anything had happened at all. A broken foundation here and there could easily be mistaken for new construction. Tourism halted for only those short two months and then picked right back up where it had left off. Palu is still rebuilding, the destruction able to be seen everywhere you look. Palu was also had to survive with the aftermath of liquefaction and the incredibly high death toll it caused. The clearing of this debris alone is still going on today, something that Gili Air didn’t have to worry about. If there had been deaths after the earthquake on Gili Air the tourist community might have reacted differently to returning so soon. Gili Air is on one end of the spectrum and Palu on the other. With a strong foreign interest in the place it is easy to play the humanitarian card and glean a lot of foreign investment and help in post disaster needs. Palu doesn’t have as prominent of a spot on the international awareness map and so didn’t receive as much aid. Didn’t receive very much aid from the local government either. That community rebuild was more in the pure sense of neighbor helping neighbor. In both cases however, the community was redefined and strengthened. Focusing on architecture through the community lens gives weight to the concept of participatory design in post disaster rebuilding.

Morgan MarzoComment