Indonesia is working hard to improve its disaster preparedness for Flash Floods and Landslides…

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Speakers at the BNPB’s National Coordinating Meeting for Disaster Mitigation. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

IO – “It would be better not to move In­donesia’s capital to East Kalimantan if it only ends up in the destruction of local forests… and I shall person­ally put a stop to it (the relocation of the capital) if it damages the forests,” declared Isran Noor, Governor of East Kalimantan during a meeting with the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) in Samarinda last Monday as report­ed by Kompas.com. East Kalimantan is a province that has signed several international environmental agree­ments. However, Jaringan Advoka­si Tambang or the Mining Advocacy Network say that at the relocation site for the new capital there are present­ly ninety-four sites of disused mines making it already an environmentally damaged site.

The declaration of East Kaliman­tan’s governor is especially timely, coming at a time when Indonesia is experiencing increasing numbers of environmental disasters. In the last few years, Indonesia has suffered unusual amounts of flooding, flash floods and landslides in many parts of the country. In 2016 flooding and flash floods occurred in Garut, West Java when there were torrential rains of 225 millimeters per second (the nor­m is between 25 and 50 millimeters per second) This combined with de­forestation of the areas at the source of the Cimanuk and Cikamuri rivers caused the rivers and the Copong Dam to overflow as they were no longer be able to contain the incoming water. Over 600 buildings were damaged and nearly 60 people died. In 2019 the Cibeurem River overflowed its banks causing 5 villages in Garut to be flooded. This year flash floods occurred in Bon­dowoso and Jember which East Java Governor, Khofifah Indar Parawansa attributes to fires decimating Mount Raung and Mount Agropuro’s forests. Also this year, over 30 villages in Bant­en, West Java were affected by flash floods. West Java Governor Andi­ka Hazrumy blamed the effects of ex­treme weather conditions and illegal mining especially on Mount Halimun which acts as the environmental sta­bilizer for the area. Last year Klaten in Central Java suffered landslides and flash floods leaving hundreds of rice field under water when a dyke collapsed. It even experienced a small cyclone which damaged 15 buildings. Last year there was also heavy flooding in Pamekasan, Madura as the river burst its banks and of course there was also flooding in Jakarta last month. Around Bandung especially in the Lembang area there is frequent­ly news of landslides and flash floods and perhaps the worst case of flash flooding was in Sentani in the Jayapu­ra regency of Papua where flash floods killed at least 113 people.

Indonesia is located in the area known as the Circum-Pacific Belt. It is a pathway along the Pacific Ocean 40, 000 kilometers long where many tec­tonic plates meet including the Eur­asian, the Indian-Australian and Pacif­ic plates. The pressure of these plates against each other is what causes vol­canoes, earthquakes and tsunamis and gives the area the name: Ring of Fire. Seventy-five percent of all volcanoes in the world are located here and ninety percent of earthquakes also occur in this area. Indonesia alone has 400 volcanoes of which 127 are active. So, all areas of Indonesia are prone to disasters ex­cept more or less the areas around Palangka Raya and Central Kalimantan which do not have active volcanoes.

However, at present within those areas prone to disasters due to their location on the Ring of Fire, there are also areas prone to disasters because of other geological, environmental and meteorological reasons. This has all conspired to make Indonesia a coun­try that is very disaster prone but that is currently also dangerously lacking in disaster preparedness.

Indonesia’s environmental track record since 2015 is in fact not that bad. From January till September 2019, forest fires consumed 857,000 hectares of forest in Indonesia, an enormous area. However, this is a significant improvement since 2015 when 2.611.411 hectares of forest burnt although figures had dropped to 165,484 hectares in 2017 – but the rise may be explained by the fact that last year was an El Nino year on top of the effects of climate change. Air quality in Indonesia has also improved although water qual­ity has deteriorated and the amount of household waste has also not im­proved. Meanwhile, the Disaster Risk Index went down from 169,4 in 2015 to 128,8 in 2018.

The government medium term national development plan 2020- 2024 includes enhancing the quality of the environment, disaster mitiga­tion and climate change mitigation via the decrease of low carbon emis­sions. Meanwhile, the Indonesian Board for Di­saster Management has created 34 Regional Board for Disaster Man­agement since 2015 to help it carry out its task.

Prof Junun Sartohadi of Universitas Gajah Mada’s (UGM) Geography Department. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Last year the President appointed one of Indonesia’s most environmentally active military offi­cers to head the Indonesian Board for Disaster Management or BNPB namely, Lieutenant General Doni Munardo who is known for the work that he did to improve the environ­ment in the Moluccas and in clean­ing the Citarum River, once known as the Dirtiest River in the World. In carrying out BNPB’s mandate Lt General Doni Munardo held a coordinating meeting between related central and regional government officials and the community via relevant stakeholders this week this week. On Monday (the 3rd of February 2020) one of the sessions of the meeting focused exclusively on hydro-meteorological issues and disasters dealing very much with flooding especially flash floods and landslides.

At the session Prof Junun Sar­tohadi of Universitas Gajah Mada’s (UGM) Geography Department ex­plained in his opening remarks that hydro-meteorological disasters namely disasters caused by weath­er and water may create landslides, flash floods or floods. He then provided some steps to decrease the danger of hydro – me­teorological disasters. One of the most important strategies is terracing the slopes of mountains. Such terracing is a form of spatial arrangement of the geomorphological processes along the slope that will help disaster mit­igation such as preventing soil erosion and in worst cases landslides and flooding.

The ground cannot absorb all the rain that drops from the sky and this is one of the causes of landslides. The collection of rainwater in areas with dwellings is a form of disas­ter mitigation. Each house should have guttering along its roof from where the rain water can be collected at a certain point and then stored to a water storage facility. Not all the rain water can be collected and stored. The remainder should be allowed to soak into the earth,” explained Prof Junun Sartohadi.

Prof Agus Maryono from UGM received the Menado Regional Board for Disaster Management’s Inspirational Figure Award for the many books that he has written about the environment. Beside him is Nashin Matani from Yayasan Peta Bencana. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Prof Agus Maryono from UGMs Civil Engineering Department and a graduate of Karlsruhe University in Germany received the Menado Re­gional Board for Disaster Manage­ment’s Inspirational Figure award for the many books that he has written about rivers, flooding and disaster mitigation, including such titles as “Managing Environmentally Friendly Rivers” and even a comic for children entitled “I Love My River”. He says, “Ninety percent of all flash floods are caused by blockages along a river which may be caused by landslides or fallen tree trunks or other flotsam such as waste constantly dumped into the river.”

Indonesia’s volcanoes, rivers, seas and mountains all have the poten­tial to cause disasters nevertheless we must bear in mind that their positive potential is even larger. Volcanic ash creates rich and fertile land for farm­ing, our seas bring fish and connect us to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, our mountains, lakes and rivers are not only beautiful and good sources of food, water, plant and animal diver­sity as well as electricity but are also important for both domestic as well as foreign tourism including hiking, rafting, swimming and fishing. “All these activities encourage the communities along the river to explore and get to know the rivers and their state, re­marked Prof Agus Maryono, “and this is really important for in order to pre­vent the sort of flooding and especial­ly flash floods that people have been experiencing in parts of Indonesia recently it is important not to allow blockages to build up in the rivers. So, it becomes a form of early warn­ing system. By exploring the rivers communities know what is happening and with the help of the military and the police steps can be taken to un­block the rivers before a disaster occurs. It has proven very successful in Menado, Klaten and Ambon where flash floods have ceased happening.”

Another means of preventing flood­ing and soil erosion leading to land­slides as Prof Junun Sartohadi men­tioned is rain harvesting. This is done by collecting some of the rain water for storage and use during the rainy season and allowing the rest to be re­absorbed into the earth where it will keep wells full to be used during the dry season. If more water than can be stored is collected then the access water should simply be poured down the well. One way to help the earth better reabsorb water is by creating bio-pores. A simple and inexpensive instrument is used to create small holes about a foot deep in the ground and filling the holes with compost. It helps the earth reabsorb the water so that the aquifer fills with rain water and then the surrounding land can also begin to produce more springs.

Prof Agus Maryono explained, “Rain water is clean, has a normal PH balance and is not polluted like some ground and river water by detergents and other chemicals for example. So, there is absolutely no reason to fear drinking and using rain water. Also rain water consists of smaller cells than ground water making it far eas­ier not only for humans to absorb it but also plants. In this way rain water helps bring about more abundant harvests and fresh water fish in rivers and lakes benefit from it too. Areas in Jambi, Pontianak and Gunung Kidul successfully practice rain harvesting and this has brought many benefits to the communities there. Any excess rain water which they cannot store is thrown into their wells and the wells improve. In Ternate where salt water has infiltrated many parts the rain water pushes back the sea water.”

In Singapore 75% of buildings harvest rain. In Australia rain is har­vested by 45% of buildings in cities and by 68 % in the countryside. If this were done in Jakarta it would slow down the city’s sinking as this is largely due to pumping water out of the aquifer by high rise buildings.

Prof Raphael Anindito is senior advisor at GTZ, the German Technical Cooperation Agency. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Prof Raphael Anindito is senior advisor at GTZ, the German Tech­nical Cooperation Agency and he reminded the audience that glob­al warming is projected to increase the risks of natural disasters. Global warming is caused by the increase of greenhouse gas emissions which are in large part caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal and the destruc­tion of forests. In Indonesia this will cause temperatures to rise, the period of the rainy season and the dry season which once lasted each about 6 months may change and consequently, there will be forest fires, flash floods, land­slides. Cyclones which were once only found in the northern and southern hemispheres will start to also appear in Indonesia. In Africa we will see bio-diversity threatened by the death of many animal species and in the US and Australia forest fires will increase. All over the world the oceans’ surface will rise and this will affect agriculture, mining and bio-diversity.

“When there are three failed har­vest in succession we may also see a community’s survival ability de­crease. This will also affect fisher­men and those communities living in the jungle. Studies were carried out in the farming area of Mojokerta and what we saw was a drop of 3 to 5 percent in harvest output. The risks faced by farmers will not remain stag­nant from year to year but will rather see a cyclical change that continues to rise. This means that the amount of damage and loss will also change which of course will affect the task of the BNPB.”

Prof Raphael Adnindito states that in building infrastructure and even public housing the govern­ment needs information regarding the risk of disasters from experts in the field for the next 5 to 10 years, and after 10 years although not much information is available for after 10 years – and how to mitigate those risks; for example, where flooding is likely to occur.”

One of the examples cited was the flash flood disaster in the Sentani area of Jayapura, Papua where a large area of river bed had been dry for nearly 40 years. People began to build on it including houses built using BTN or Bank Tabungan Negara credit facilities for first homes. In March 2019 after tor­rential rains causing landslides the area was hit by a flashflood and 123 people were killed. Prof Raphael Adnindito predicts that there will be areas in Indonesia where the average rainfall will change. Meanwhile, the spatial distribution in heavily populated areas will continue to rise as will urbanization.

Nashin Matani from Yayasan Peta Bencana spoke about how her orga­nization harnesses the power of so­cial media to gather, sort and display information about disasters in real time. ASEAN has 625 million inhab­itants and 735 million handphones so her Yayasan a system whereby maps were created about flooding in Jakarta via information passed on by residents via their handphones. In 2013 flooding occurred when a por­tion of one of the walls of the flood canal broke. This could not be predicted so people as well as the government needed real time information from people which is usually the case once a disaster has occurred. So, Peta Bencana de­signed a software whereby anytime the word “banjir” or flood appeared in twitter the sender would be sent a question asking whether there was flooding where they were and if they would care to send a flood report. If they agreed to do so, they were then sent a link where they could send information and photographs. The report could be sent via twitter, telegram or Facebook. It would appear on a flood map within 0.04 seconds after the report was sent. The flood map re­ports information such as the height of the flood and whether cars can drive there. PetaBencana.id work closely together with BNPB and BPPD who use this information and also provide Peta Bencana with more information for the flood maps. Nishin Matani says Peta Bencana will be ex­tending its service to other disasters and other provinces in the future.

Irma Hutabarat and other speakers receiving tokens of appreciation from the BNPB. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Irma Hutabuarat was a television presenter and celebrity who is now head of the Indonesian Vetiver Foun­dation. It was Irma who activated the movement to clean up the Citarum River once called the Dirtiest River in the World through social media. She then persuaded the military to become involved in cleaning up the river through the help of Lt General Doni Munardo. One of the main tools in cleaning the Citarum is vetiver, a grass like plant which cleans rivers of chemicals and heavy metals. Its long and dense root network also prevents soil erosion and helps to maintain moisture in the earth as well as the top soil. Recently, President Jokowi instructed region all over Indo­nesia to plant vetiver as part of the effort to prevent landslides, flash floods and to clean rivers. The Green Goddess was one of the speakers at the session.

“Indonesia is a supermarket for disasters making it vital that gov­ernment infrastructure and housing projects are planned based on the advice of experts in geology, mete­orology, hydrology, forestry and so forth. We have the experts but all too often the government does not listen or carry out their advice. Look at Palu which suffered such a dev­astating earthquake and the govern­ment is going to rebuild it in the same red zone. Experts tried to warn the government about the disasters that could strike and were investigated by the police and warned not to scare the public. Look at Jatiluhur. Experts gave warnings not to use the rivers as drainage systems that would cause sedimentation and making water levels drop. The dam which should be producing electricity 24 hours a day went down to 8 hours a day. So, the government has a share in the responsibility for the many environ­mental disaster Indonesia is experi­encing.

Doni Munardo is constantly hav­ing to deal with natural disasters and there should be an ultimatum issued that those who give out construc­tion licenses in red zones should be brought before the courts,” declared Irma Hutabarat bravely. “Stop disre­garding the advice of our experts! You put lives at risk in doing so!!”
(Tamalia Alisjahbana)