The Availability of Data and Information on Natural Disaster in Indonesia

Teti A. Argo

@Research Institute@Institut Teknologi Bandung,Jl. Ganesha 10, Bandung 40132 Indonesia


At least for the last decade, reports on natural disaster occurrence in Indonesian cities and countrysides have intensified. Such reports come with their own specific type of disaster unheard of before. The latest was a report on landslides in combination with floods on Nias island, west of the major island of Sumatra. It took about 116 lives and dozens are still unaccounted for. Many have awakened to the fact that Indonesia is located in one of the most hazardous geographical areas in the world, particularly for active volcanoes. This is where the volcanic eruption of Mt. Tamboura in 1813 caused food riots in England and famine in India, and where the eruption of Mt. Krakatau darkened the skies for a couple of days. Since then, government institutions have carefully monitored the activities of volcanoes, particularly in order to better prepare society for a disaster it may face.
This paper will provide information and identify data and information on natural disasters that exist in Indonesia, in order to recognize and understand the nature of disaster reduction activities at the national and local levels. The paper will give conclusions on improving the access of data and information on natural disaster especially at the local level, in order to better prepare and plan habitable human settlements.

Keywods; Disaster management; disaster reduction activities


1. Natural disaster and the data/information at the national level

Natural disaster is a term that applies to a geologic and/or meteorological activity that causes damage particularly in the number of human lives taken and their well-being affected. It is a joint product of nature and society. As human-constructed environments expands in line with the expansion of human settlement, so are hazard-prone areas transformed into settlements. Currently, there are about five sources of natural disaster that are observed and monitored by the various national-level agencies in Indonesia: floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and drought. Other types of natural disaster such as tsunami, which often take place as a result of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, are not monitored as strictly.

Much data and information on natural disaster are collected and documented at the national level. This has become a practice since the Dutch colonial period, when the technical aspects of natural disaster were first divided into their respective scientific disciplines. The Directorate of Geology is responsible for monitoring volcanos, earthquakes, and landslides. The Department of Public Works specializes in monitoring floods and drought, which are connected to the major activity of water resource planning and management. The social aspects such as health problems and human settlement casualties were managed before 1990 by the Department of Social Works for mobilizing resources particularly human resources, department to health for medical responsibilities, Department of Public Works for settlement reconstruction. In 1990, the National Coordinating Body of Disaster Relief (Bakornas PB) was formed in order to coordinate activities that were previously concentrated in respective departments. Bakornas PB responds to reports made to them re. Natural disasters and then mobilizes specialized departments to help out in the disaster areas.

From the technical aspects such as the location of natural disaster, magnitude, duration, and secondary effects, data and information are intensively collected at the national level. They employ recent, more accurate tools. For example, the Indonesian Disaster Management Information System (IDMIS) has developed Volcano Hazard Information System (VHIS) that is capable to monitor volcanoes all over Indonesia from several stations. They have also developed a multi-receiving stations in Pare-Pare, South Sulawesi, that is capable of receiving signals from different types of satellites, such as Landsat, ERS1, and JERS1. Bakosurtanal (Mapping and Survey Agency) consistently uses satellite data to monitor land change. So do BMG (Meteorological and Seismic Agency) and LAPAN (National Aeronatic and Space Agency).

From the social point of view, departments at the national level need a unit that deal with rescue and first aid for disaster casualties from disaster. The Department of Public Works do not have a specific unit. In fact, they rely on staff specializing in basic tasks to help out with casualties due to disaster. The Department of Public Works relies on their research agencies, such as the water resource technology research agency (Puslitbang Air) and the Human Settlement Research Agency (Puslitbangkim) to help out with developing and innovating new approaches to deal with natural disaster. The Department of Health does not have a special unit to deal with natural disaster, except for a first aid help line. The Department of Social Works treats natural disaster casualties similar to the way they treat other, non-disaster casualties. Thus, considering the overall state of specialized social or human assistance, progress has not been made as quickly as it has in the technical aspects of disaster reduction.

At the local level, there is a lack of resources and practically no agency that can deal deal with the technical aspects of natural disaster other than the Local Coordinating Body of Disaster Relief (Satlak PB). The Satlak PB mainly coordinates public and private institutions, voluntary agencies, and community members themselves to assist in disaster relief. Under the command of Satlak PB, various agencies carry out relief with first aid kits, temporary settlements, food, personal sanitary and other utility facilities. Usually, first priority is given to first aid and food, especially if the affected residents decide to stay in their respective areas. Other help is in the form of human resources, and in the case of floods it is with this help that the flow of water is controlled. In many cases, evacuation occurs, particularly when the loss of human life is at stake. In all, Satlak PB undertakes a large amount of work.

Despite the intensive disaster relief done by Satlak PB, its activities are not often documented--not even the magnitude and duration of a disaster if it occurs over a long period of time. Satlak PB documentation extends for a year or two; at maximum, about five years. Sometimes Satlak PB presents their disaster relief activities in the form of geographical maps, drawn using pen and paper. There is however, little documentation being made particularly for the purposes of reducing casualties in the future. Performing disaster relief at a small scale, in fact, is to work against a high level of change in the environment. In other words, the level of uncertainty in direction seems to be higher at the local level. Concentration on disaster relief frees Satlak PB from preparing documentation or offering input on policy toward how the settlements should be planned and developed--tasks the agency finds to be difficult. Now, the organization documents its actvities, but only for the purpose of reporting to superiors and who oversee the activities.

At the local level, many disaster casualties are manageable by local budgets or local resources. Once the scale, magnitude and duration become massive, the responsibility moves to the provincial or even national levels. Thus with less budget, less resources and less responsibility toward disaster reduction, institutions at the local level tend to see disaster relief activities as quick-fix or piece-meal activities that do not count toward building sustainable, inhabitable residential settlements in the future. There is a need at the local level to empower Satlak PB and other responsible agencies to understand how their cities and countrysides work. The understanding that disaster can be prevented, that casualty can be reduced, is a necessary element for changing attitudes. In the mind of many people affected, and even those who are not affected, disaster relief provides a new lesson and meaning to their lives.