Lombok earthquakes reveal that disaster management in Indonesia is fragile
Author: Bimal Paul, Kansas State University
In the span of just a month, several strong earthquakes hit the island of Lombok and surrounding areas of Indonesia. The most powerful of them struck early on August 3, 2018, reaching a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale. A tsunami warning was issued immediately afterwards, prompting people to flee to the heights. After the main earthquake, at least 500 aftershocks were reported.
Lombok and its surroundings had already been hit by three earthquakes in the week leading up to August 3. Further powerful earthquakes struck the region on August 5 (magnitude 6.9) and August 19 (magnitude 6.5). The August 3 earthquake alone killed at least 430 people and displaced an estimated 350,000 others. All of the confirmed deaths were Indonesians. Most of the deaths occurred near the epicenter in northern Lombok, a residential and less developed part of the island. The earthquakes collectively killed more than 500 people and damaged homes, infrastructure and other property worth around $ 528 million.
Indonesia is an archipelagic state subject to a multitude of geological and natural hazards – earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts and forest fires – mainly due to its vast territory and location in a tropical region of intense seismic and volcanic activity known as the “Ring of Fire”. The most devastating disaster to hit Indonesia was the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, which originated from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra. The event left 225,000 people dead and affected more than 530,000 people.
Earthquakes are probably the most frequent and devastating natural disasters in Indonesia. Since the tsunami, Indonesia has been hit by at least 12 earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.1 or more, which have killed a total of 10,249 people. Due to the constant risk of natural disasters, the country would do well to prepare regularly for such events, especially earthquakes.
Since the 2004 tsunami, Indonesia has invested substantial resources in disaster risk reduction. In 2008, the government replaced the National Disaster Management Coordination Council, established in 1979, with the National Disaster Management Agency (known locally as Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana or BNPB). In the same year, the government formed the Local Disaster Management Agency (Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah). The BNPB reports directly to the president and its president is directly appointed by the president. These changes reflect the seriousness with which the national government views disaster risk reduction.
The government has realigned the roles and responsibilities of the different line ministries with the aim of proposing a more holistic approach to disaster risk management. This means better linking disaster risk management to climate change adaptation and socio-economic development processes. The government also signed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, committing to ensure that disaster management becomes a shared responsibility between central and local governments, line ministries and relevant stakeholders in the disaster risk reduction process. civil society. The National Medium-Term Development Plan (2015-2019) also highlights the need to further integrate disaster management into development planning.
Several development partners have also played an important role in assisting the Indonesian government‘s disaster management efforts. In 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) established a subregional office in Jakarta to jointly provide funds to train the first stakeholders, while supporting community disaster awareness programs. Since the establishment of the subregional office, USAID and OFDA have participated in four disaster response efforts and have funded numerous disaster risk reduction projects.
But despite Indonesia’s propensity for natural hazards, rescue and relief efforts after the earthquake have been slow and disappointing. Hundreds of tourists have been trapped on a volcano in Lombok and many more have been caught in landslides on Mount Rinjani. Even more remained stranded in hotels, which were filled to capacity. Many survivors have been treated outside because hospitals were damaged in the earthquake, while night search and rescue efforts were hampered by power and communication blackouts. Damaged roads and a lack of heavy machinery hampered rescue and response immediately after the disaster.
The lack of machinery means that the Indonesian authorities are still not prepared for earthquakes. Four agencies were involved in rescue and relief operations, including the police, the military, government agencies and national volunteers. Due to a lack of equipment to clear damaged roads, BNPB deployed a limited number of helicopters to evacuate foreign and Indonesian tourists and distribute emergency aid. But local rescue teams were slow to reach many of the worst affected areas in northern Lombok. Three ships evacuated 1,000 tourists in the week following the event, but evacuation was hampered in the Gili Islands due to the limited number of ships available.
The slowness of the government’s response could also be explained by the surprising statement by the BNPB that it had not appealed for international aid because the earthquakes were not a national emergency. The agency says Indonesia has sufficient resources and considerable experience in dealing with natural disasters, and the country is proud not to have declared a national disaster since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. .
The BNPB statement reflects a nationalist tone, but not an ability to handle a post-disaster situation in a timely and effective manner. At the very least, Indonesia should seek emergency aid from neighboring ASEAN countries to reduce the suffering of earthquake survivors.
Bimal Paul is director of the South Asia Center at Kansas State University.