West indian culture

Building a Disaster-Ready Culture in Indonesia

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By: Wahyu Wilopo, Lecturer at the Department of Geological Engineering Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia.

Indonesia has experienced nearly 10,000 floods in the past decade, and flood-related incidents are steadily increasing. To reverse the trend, new cultural and infrastructural solutions may be needed.

About 100 million people live in flood-prone areas in Indonesia, totaling almost a third of the national population. Relocating these people from disaster-prone areas to places of safety is a difficult proposition, but one of growing importance.

In the decade from 2010 to 2021, Indonesia experienced 9,894 floods, which killed 2,394 people and resulted in an average economic loss of 22.8 trillion rupees ($1.5 billion) – and the incidence of floods increases year by year.

Floods are one of the most frequent disasters in Indonesia, disrupting economic activities, logistics flows, transportation, agricultural production and other sectors, while causing tragic casualties.

Indonesia’s vulnerability to flooding stems in part from its complex geological makeup, resulting from its position at the confluence of three of the world’s major tectonic plates: Eurasia, India-Australia and the Pacific. This led to the formation of a series of volcanoes from west to east of Indonesia, making the country vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, as well as earthquakes, tsunamis, liquefaction, landslides, floods and extreme weather conditions.

Data from Indonesia’s National Disaster Risk Index shows that in 2021, 324 districts and cities were classified as high flood risk, 69 as medium risk and only three as low risk.

The increasing incidence of flooding in Indonesia has been exacerbated by a combination of factors. They are primarily the result of climate change, which causes coastal flooding through sea level rise and high tides and also triggers changes in rainfall patterns that have led to long periods of high intensity rainfall. The runoff from this precipitation greatly exceeds the volume estimates originally used to design the stormwater systems. Indonesia’s waterways are already under pressure from rapid urban expansion that has paved over permeable surfaces that previously absorbed high-intensity rainfall. This is complicated by flooding in areas where land subsidence has occurred as a result of massive groundwater extraction.

Human activities also exacerbate the effect of floods through upstream land use changes, sedimentation and deforestation of rivers, and insufficient or poorly functioning drainage channels in major cities, especially Jakarta. Flood risks are increased by the growing number of people who need a place to live and who settle in flood-prone areas.

Flood management and mitigation cannot be based on administrative boundaries, but must be coordinated within a river basin, including upstream and downstream factors.

Flood mitigation can be achieved through two approaches: structural and non-structural. Structural solutions look at physical factors that can minimize the impact of flooding, such as increasing water channel capacity and reducing water flow velocity. Waterway capacity can be improved by widening the channel or river cross-section, deepening the river bed and/or raising the levee, or constructing a channel to break the river flow.

Meanwhile, reduction of water flow velocity can be achieved by constructing reservoirs. Another structural solution to reduce flooding is to construct infiltration wells around new buildings to reduce surface runoff and increase groundwater recharge – this would require legislative changes to building permits.

Regional land use planning is the first step in disaster mitigation efforts. However, the response from different regional areas in Indonesia to include disaster information in the preparation of spatial plans has been uneven, with economic pressures being among the reasons given for not following the plans.

Improving community preparedness in flood-prone areas can be led through education, socialization, training, development of flood standard operating procedures, development of evacuation route maps and safety points, and early flood warnings.

Flood early warning systems have been built in several parts of Indonesia, but not all of them are functioning optimally, for several reasons, including: poor understanding of flood risk in the community; flood early warning and river monitoring systems that are not yet integrated; dissemination of flood information and early warnings which have not been effective and efficient; lack of community capacity to respond to flood information and early warnings; lack of coordination between institutions and local governments in disseminating flood early warnings to the public; and the use of technology is not yet optimal.

Disaster education is key to achieving community resilience in the face of disasters and should be introduced from an early age in the home and school environment in order to transform knowledge into culture – a process that requires a long time and continuous efforts.

However, until now, Indonesia had a limited program to require or guide disaster education in schools, both in the classroom and in after-school programs. It is implemented sporadically at the local level. Disaster education that provides knowledge about disasters and implements anticipation and response to catastrophic events in daily life, will ultimately lead to preparedness becoming the culture of the community, enhancing national resilience and mitigation against the increase flood risks.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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