I wrote the story on Indonesia’s attempts at natural disaster warning and prevention for Earth magazine last April, based on reporting I did in Indonesia in late December.
Now with the Sulawesi quake and tsunami disaster, I print it below. The sheer unpredictability of quakes and tsunamis in a nation of 6000 inhabited islands spread 3000 miles apart has made the task of disaster preparedness nearly impossible — especially with parts of the warning system no longer working and no government or international funds to repair the German and Indonesian tidal buoys originally designed to
measure tsunami wave displacements before they hit shore. Indonesia needs help.
Hazards in paradise: Indonesia prepares for natural disasters (Earth Magazine, July 2018)
by Arielle Emmett
With a little imagination, it’s not hard to see a natural hazard map of Indonesia as a dartboard with many bull’s-eyes. Throw a dart anywhere in the vicinity of the 18,000 islands that make up the Indonesian Archipelago, and it will almost certainly land close to more than one active volcano, and near areas severely impacted by past earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as dozens of fires, floods, tornadoes and landslides, which all routinely disrupt this country’s lush beauty.
Indonesia sits atop a tectonically complex region along the Pacific Ring of Fire — the volatile region of earthquake and volcanic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean. And, by virtue of the archipelago’s equatorial location and its array of physiographically diverse islands, different parts of the country are subjected to a wide variety of weather, from drenching monsoon rains to prolonged dry spells.
But how effective are these technologies in helping safeguard the country’s populace? Indonesia is a country with 55,000 kilometers of coastline and more than 266 million inhabitants living on 6,000 islands, many of which are among the most remote in the world, where cellphone and internet coverage is rare. I wanted to understand whether the government’s efforts to communicate about hazards were reaching its far-flung residents, and if disaster preparedness based on folklore and “local wisdom” might be equally important — or more so — than monitoring and warning technologies.
Weather and Geology Hazards
Few people outside the region understand just how regularly natural disasters occur throughout Indonesia’s 5,000-kilometer-wide archipelago. More than 2,000 serious disasters are reported each year, 90 percent of which are weather-related — mostly the result of flooding rains, tornadoes, fires and mudslides. In 2017, Indonesians reported 787 floods, 716 tornadoes, 614 landslides, and 96 forest and ground fires (burning peat lands and rainforests to make room for large palm oil plantations and smaller farms is a popular practice, especially in Sumatra). Indonesians also reported 19 regional droughts, two volcanic eruptions — at Mount Sinabung on Sumatra and Mount Agung on Bali — and 11 tsunamis. Overall, 3.4 million people were displaced that year by these natural disasters.
Indonesia experiences roughly 4,000 earthquakes a year, 70 to 100 of which are magnitude 5.5 or higher, along with one or two highly destructive quakes, some reaching or exceeding magnitude 8. Hazard maps created by the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, known as BMKG (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika), show that earthquakes and tsunamis are particularly frequent on those islands directly adjacent to the boundaries of the tectonic plates that meet in Indonesia’s midst — specifically the Indo-Australian, Pacific, Philippine Sea and Sunda plates — which are continuously moving and straining against one another.
Read complete article in Earth magazine at https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/hazards-paradise-indonesia-prepares-natural-disasters