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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Uehara

Why Indonesia’s Recent Earthquake Was So Disastrous

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake strikes Indonesia, causing widespread structural damage (D.W. Fisher-Freberg, Wikimedia Commons)

Indonesia, an archipelago nation in Southeast Asia, has one of the world's highest rates of natural disasters. Located in the aptly named “Ring of Fire,” it is highly susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis brought on by underwater volcanic eruptions. Since 2016, more than 2,000 natural disasters have occurred in Indonesia. Most recently, an earthquake struck the island of Java, leaving 260 dead and many more injured or displaced.

How Money Limits the Indonesian Disaster Response

With more than 270 million citizens vulnerable to these disasters, Indonesia's risk reduction and disaster management systems are extremely important. However, due to a limited budget, Indonesia’s early-warning and response systems have not been properly maintained. In 2018, for example, the Indonesian meteorological and geophysics agency, BMKG, said that only 70 out of the total 170 earthquakes could be supported by Indonesia’s disaster systems that year. These problems mainly arose due to increased government investments in public and private infrastructure rather than disaster response mechanisms. As of March 2022, BMKG has installed 428 New Generation Warning Receiver Systems (WRS) across the country, which they hope will strengthen its earthquake and tsunami early warning capabilities. However, much more money and time are needed to bring Indonesia to a state where citizens can feel safe.

The Recent Earthquake Epitomizes Indonesia’s Limited Response Capacity

On November 21, an earthquake struck the city of Cianjur on Indonesia’s main island of Java. According to the New York Times, at least two million people were affected by the quake, and the shock was felt as far away as Jakarta, about 60 miles northwest of Cianjur. In total, the earthquake displaced more than 60,000 people, and in the worst-affected villages, nearly 80 percent of homes were either severely damaged or destroyed. Following the quake, thousands of rescuers were deployed to pull people out of the rubble and distribute aid, nearly two dozen medical centers were established, and short-term shelters were erected in fields and yards for those made homeless by the earthquake.

Although the earthquake only had a 5.6 magnitude, the area was densely populated and largely unprepared for the earthquake, resulting in catastrophe. Experts say that the shallowness of the quake, exacerbated by poor infrastructure, caused significant structural damage. Samsul Bahri, a 28-year-old Cianjur farmer, and father of two could only watch as his house crumbled. “We only watched natural disasters on the news, thinking they were far from us, but now it happened on our soil,” he told The New Humanitarian. In addition, the Cainjur locals were only used to small earthquakes, meaning they had limited knowledge of how to respond to larger ones. Asep Kurniawan, principal of the Al Hidayah Islamic school, said no one had ever come to his school to educate students about disaster mitigation and earthquake safety.

The Future Of Indonesia

Although natural disasters are a frequent occurrence in Indonesia, government data shows that less than three percent of Indonesian households know how to respond to natural disasters or recognize warning signs. The earthquake in November was a wake-up call for the government to increase awareness efforts, especially in inland areas where government programs have not historically reached.

In 2013, the Indonesian government created the National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaption to implement climate change adaptation interventions, including efforts to increase public knowledge surrounding natural disasters. In addition to these efforts, the national disaster agency has been working with other ministries and civil societies to build earthquake-proof houses and implement natural disaster instruction in schools. However, Pangarso Suryotomo, the director of preparedness at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), stated that they have yet to achieve the desired results. Indonesia still has a long road ahead in its effort to prevent a disaster as destructive as the recent earthquakes.



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