Archaeologists urge Government to address disaster mitigation for heritage buildings after spate of disasters

Disaster Mitigation Seminar. From left to right: Yori Antar, Wiwiwn Djuwita Ramelan, Amich Alhumami, Hilmar Farid, Os Ri Foel Oes Man and Inda C. Noerhadi. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

IO – In 2015 the Jin de Yuan (or Vihara Darma Bhakti) temple which is the oldest Chinese temple in Jakarta was heavily damaged by fire.  Last year Bastion Zeeburg and part of the 17th century city wall of Jakarta were destroyed during former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s bulldozing of the area around the fish market. This year a 19th century Chinese house in SMP 32 collapsed as a result of neglect by the Jakarta Municipality and in February the 17th century Maritime Museum suffered from fire damage. This is happening all over Indonesia. Other than the Jin de Yuan temple these buildings were all the responsibility of the Jakarta Municipality. On the 5th of April 2018 a seminar was held by the Indonesian Archaeological Experts Association (Ikatan Ahli Arkeolog Indonesia) also known as IAAI to urge the both regional and central government to address disaster mitigation issues for heritage buildings and structures all over Indonesia.

Dr Wiwin Djuwita Ramelan, head of the IAAI explained succinctly that three issues need to be addressed disaster mitigation, restoration in accordance with heritage principles and raising funds for restoration and maintenance. Dr H. Subejo who heads Fire Mitigation Services of the Jakarta Municipality and Os Ri  Foel Oes Man of the Tim Sidang Pemugaran or Jakarta Project Review Board for heritage buildings explained at length various steps that need to be taken for disaster mitigation from fire and earthquakes to official neglect.

The Director General for Culture, Dr Hilmar Farid stated that Indonesia has 997 objects and buildings that have been declared national heritage objects. This is an extremely small amount when one considers how large Indonesia is and the hundreds of thousands if not millions of objects still awaiting heritage status. Nevertheless, the expense of disaster mitigation actions, restoration as well as maintenance for 997 objects is a large amount especially when taking into account large heritage sites such as the Majapahit site in Trowulan or the Muara Jambi temple site in Jambi which covers nearly 26 kilometers. As the Director General says, the Indonesian landscape is full of heritage buildings and the national budget does not have the funds to carry out national standard preservation that meets the national standard including proper disaster mitigation steps.

Hilmar Farid explained that in February of this year the President made a speech wherein he said that Indonesia would not be able to reach the economic developments of the Asian Tigers such as Korea and Japan via industrialization alone. The only way to catch up with them is via the creative economy that stems from art and culture.  There must therefore be a commitment to the arts and culture so that they can become the core of our development. “It follows therefore,” said the Director General, “that there must also be a commitment towards the protection of arts and culture that they may be used and developed and this does not only entail providing the necessary equipment but also training and creating a sense of responsibility which can only be achieved with supervision and good management and for this regulations are required providing the proper guidelines for disaster mitigation. ”

The Director General for Higher Education, Research and Culture of Bappenas or the National Planning Agency, Amich Alhumami also stressed that social cultural capitalization needs to be the core for economic growth. He then spoke about the possibilities of covering the lack of funds for this in the current budget via multilateral organizations such as UNESCO, philanthropy which can be in the form of personal donations or the work of non-profit philanthropic organizations and finally through the private sector namely foreign and domestic social corporate responsibility. He promised the National Development Planning Agency or Bappenas help in obtaining multilateral funds. The experience of charitable organizations as well as donors for heritage preservation has however, shown that this alone will not suffice as Bappenas will also need to assist several ministries in particular the Ministry of Finance in creating new regulations that would support and make possible such philanthropic organizations and activities in the field of heritage.

Yori Antar, the well known architect who specializes in the preservation of adat or traditional local buildings said that many adat houses were already equipped with disaster mitigation elements such as the slanted shape of Minangkabau houses which made them very adapted to simply swaying rather than collapsing during earthquakes. Batak traditional houses have roofs not equipped with trusses but have their rafters tied together by one sturdy rattan rope. In the event of a fire in the roof the rattan rope only needs to be slashed and the two sides of the roof will fall away from the building so that the lower building does not also burn.

Harry Widianto, the Director for Preservation, Museums and Heritage Objects of the Ministry of Education and Culture said that it was too complicated to outfit heritage buildings as museums in accordance with acceptable standards of disaster mitigation and that it would be better to simply build new buildings for museums.  What is the definition of museum? Is it a building that houses historic artifacts which is open to the public? In that sense a great many heritage buildings abroad are used as stately homes in which heritage objects in the form of antique furniture, paintings etcetera are kept and open to the public for viewing. What will heritage buildings in Indonesia be used for if they may no longer be used as museums. Also whether a heritage building is used as a museum or not the law still requires it to be restored, preserved and made safe against disasters with the proper equipment, trained staff, supervision and mangement.

Many of the heritage disasters in Jakarta were the result of a lack of not only the buildings not meeting fire and building standards for disaster mitigation but also a very big lack of the proper staff training and responsibility. Hilmar Farid complains about a lack of responsibility among civil servants with regard to their duty to restore and preserve heritage buildings which includes disaster mitigation. He says that this is partially due to lack of training and lack of good management which includes supervision.

In the past museum staff have received training from institutions such as the Tropen Institute, the Rijksmuseum and UNESCO but all too often the staff sent for training only come for the first day of training, do not seriously follow the training and take notes or if they do they do not make a report for their section so that when they are moved to another section after three years or so, their replacement still have the notes. The heads of the sections who really need to understand the matters taught at the training never attend the training and usually send the lowest ranking staff who have no power to enforce the things they have learned. If the government is serious about culture and heritage being a core part of economic development the local and regional governments need to take such training seriously as do for example the ministries which will give their staff weeks if not even months off from their work to complete such training.

Which leads to another question related to disaster mitigation especially man-made disasters: supervision. Supervision is not possible without responsibility and sanctions. The Heritage Law of 2010 provides very clear sanctions for disaster caused by actions or negligence which consist of fines and prison sentences. In the case of civil servants such crimes are increased by a third and yet there has been no one held responsible in most of the heritage building disasters in the last three years. In Jakarta after Governor Basuki Tjahaya  removed all power of the Project Review Board for heritage buildings to provide sanctions it has become a toothless tiger.

Without civil servants taking responsibility and sanctions for those who do not and whose lack of responsibility leads to heritage disasters heritage preservation will never succeed. The government may not understand this but the adat community does. Yori Antar mentioned the case of a Dayak long house burning down due to a member of the community cooking in a negligent manner not in accordance with the manner prescribed by the community. He was held responsible and exiled for 10 years from the adat community. What about the government? Who is held responsible and receives sanctions for all the heritage disasters since 2015 mentioned at the beginning of this article?

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)