When Wildfires Speak: Mount Bromo’s Insight into Urban and Rural Conservation Challenges

SimpleJoy
4 min readSep 20, 2023

Wildfires that were raging in Bromo marred the area’s serene landscapes. The fire’s cause? A seemingly harmless pre-wedding photoshoot where flares were used.

Mount Bromo, Wildfires 2023, Source: Kompas.com

Mount Bromo, a jewel nestled within Indonesia’s vast landscapes, tells a story not just of nature’s splendor but of a connection deep-rooted in tradition and reverence. As the sun rises over this active volcano in East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, painting the sky in stunning hues, it’s a moment of shared awe for both the Tengger people, who’ve held this mountain sacred for generations, and travelers from distant lands.

Mount Bromo, East Java, Indonesia
Mount Bromo, Photo by Fajruddin Mudzakkir on Unsplash

A Human-Made Tragedy

But recently, a shadow fell over Bromo. On a day in early September 2023, what began as a moment of celebration—a pre-wedding photoshoot—became a cautionary tale. Flares, lit for the sake of a picture, sparked a wildfire. Strong winds and dry conditions helped the fire spread quickly, causing damage to over 500 hectares of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.

This not only threatened the park’s delicate ecosystem, including the precious edelweiss flowers and the Javan deer, but also posed substantial economic challenges for the local community reliant on tourism. For almost two weeks, the Bromo tourist area remained closed, only reopening with strict online ticketing and health protocols on September 19, 2023.

Wildfires, Bromo, 2023

This story, unfortunately, isn’t new. A 15-year-old boy set off the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon in 2017, which consumed over 50,000 acres and forced numerous evacuations. Similarly, the El Dorado Fire in 2020 in California was sparked by a pyrotechnic device during a gender reveal party, leading to the burning of over 22,000 acres and the tragic loss of a firefighter.

Challenging Assumptions

I’m reminded of the numerous development initiatives since the 2000s that aimed to instill a sense of responsibility towards forest conservation. Many of these were designed with local and indigenous communities in mind: raising awareness, providing alternative livelihood activities, building capacities about wildfires, etc.

Yet, the incident at Bromo makes me wonder: Are we casting our nets wide enough? Visitors from the city, rather than a local or someone who was unaware of the location’s significance, started the fire. This brings to light an essential realization. It’s not just about reinforcing the knowledge of those who live amidst these treasures; it’s about broadening the circle of responsibility.

  • Local Wisdom and Indigenous Knowledge: Local communities and indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with their environments for generations. They have developed a deep understanding of and intricate knowledge systems about their ecosystems. This “local wisdom” often encompasses sustainable practices that have allowed them to coexist with nature without depleting resources.
  • False Dichotomy of ‘Educated’ vs. ‘Uneducated’: Incidents like the one in Bromo illustrate that having a formal urban education does not necessarily translate to environmental wisdom or responsibility. Conversely, a lack of formal education in local or indigenous communities doesn’t equate to ignorance about sustainable practices or ecological care. The dichotomy of “educated” urbanites versus “uneducated” locals is a simplistic and flawed understanding.
  • Development Assumptions: Some development initiatives, especially in the past, operated on the assumption that “modern” or “Western” knowledge systems were superior and that local practices were “backward” or “primitive.” These assumptions have sometimes led to projects that, while well-intentioned, disrupted traditional sustainable practices and replaced them with less suitable alternatives.

Beyond the “Savior” Narrative

When we delve deep into the historical perspective of aid and development initiatives, a particular narrative emerges, which I’ve often found thought-provoking. There’s been a recurring “Savior” Narrative in the world of development aid. Time and again, we’ve seen narratives of aid portrayed as a noble quest to “save” or “assist” communities perceived as vulnerable or marginalized. Urban, “educated” groups, on the other hand, often fall outside this conventional frame.

This perception is not unfounded. There’s a genuine belief that rural or indigenous groups require more immediate interventions or capacity-building exercises. While this might be accurate in many cases, it’s essential to question whether these perceptions sometimes overshadow the broader picture.

Moreover, when we talk about tangible outcomes, interventions involving local communities can be visibly heartwarming. Reforestation projects or infrastructure development provide donors with a sense of accomplishment and a direct link between their contributions and palpable results. This tangible difference has an allure of its own.

Adding to the allure is its exotic appeal. For potential donors, especially those residing in bustling metropolitan areas or developed nations, stories from remote landscapes or culturally rich regions captivate the imagination. Urban scenarios, despite their relevance, might not strike the same chord.

Yet, when we turn our gaze to urban spaces, the complexity of their issues becomes evident. Educating and changing behaviors in these dynamic environments can be intricate and multifaceted. The task might seem daunting, but that doesn’t diminish its importance.

Lastly, it’s hard to ignore historical precedent. Many non-profit initiatives have roots deeply embedded in rural development and are equipped with expertise tailored for these communities. Pivoting towards urban interventions would indeed be a sea change, demanding fresh perspectives and approaches.

In tying this all together, it’s crucial to understand that while the Bromo incident highlights a lapse by urban visitors, the solution lies in a holistic approach. It’s about broadening horizons, understanding the multifaceted nature of responsibilities, and ensuring that everyone, irrespective of their backgrounds, is equipped and empowered to cherish and protect our world’s wonders, just like Mount Bromo.

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SimpleJoy

Mother & aid practitioner 🌏 | Exploring cultural bridges 🌐, aid industry insights 🔍, and cherishing life's simple pleasures 🌸