Monday, September 17, 2007

Indonesian Government Moves to Reduce Disaster Risks

By David Hollister

Indonesia is one of the most hazard prone countries in the world. In the last decade it has experienced a continuous onslaught of disasters. The resulting loss of life, damage to Indonesia's towns and cities, infrastructure and setbacks to its economic growth have become a normal part of daily news resulting in a national reassessment of the root causes of these disasters. Some, like the Aceh tsunami and earthquake, have been closely scrutinized internationally as well.

This has caused both the Indonesian public as well as its new, democratically elected leaders to realize that the previous focus on relief and response after a disaster has only partially addressed the issue of how best to deal with sudden-onset disasters.

The obvious setbacks to social, physical and economic growth caused by these disasters have led to a growing realization by much of the general public and the countries leaders that a lack of attention to potential disaster threats during the development decision making process lies at the heart of the cause for the recent extensive disaster damage. This important shift to understanding the link between development and disasters, wherein development decisions themselves either increase or decrease future disaster risks, is necessary -- in fact essential -- in a country as highly disaster prone as Indonesia.

Therefore, the emerging consensus seems to be that a nationwide reorientation must be made by every family, community or organization that makes reducing the risks of potential future disasters a normal part of all development decisions. This means building houses and schools that won't collapse in an earthquake killing the occupants.

It means fostering planning processes that result in villages, towns, districts or provinces that are more resilient to annual flooding or other hazards that might affect them. I also means assessing what effect environmental degradation and the climate change induced sea level rise will have on the coastlines of Indonesia's 17,000 islands and then adapting to the anticipated environmental and physical changes. Equally important is the development of disaster resilient infrastructure standards so investments in infrastructure reconstruction programs won't have to be repeated after the next disaster.

How is it that development decisions came to be made in a disaster prone country like Indonesia without considering the potential impact of inevitable disasters? Indonesia actually has a long history of disaster mitigation made evident by undamaged 100-year-old houses surrounded by collapsed contemporary houses in earthquake stricken Yogyakarta, the local wisdom of traditional coastal communities that for decades have had in place their own tsunami early warning systems and evacuation plans, flood preparedness and food security decrees of Sultanates of old, and even more ancient Islamic teachings such as "Trust in Allah, but don't forget to tie up your camels".

However, for some reason, in the last 60 to 70 years of modernization this wisdom and traditional knowledge has not been transferred forward and made a normal part of the contemporary development process as it historically once was. Instead, here in Indonesia as well as in most other countries in the works, disasters came to be seen more as a "condition to be dealt with" after the fact rather than, as was done in the past, treating the root cause of disasters as an integrated part of a communities growth and development.

The Government of Indonesia has recently taken several very important steps to bolster disaster risk reduction efforts among communities that started with passing the new, visionary National Disaster Management (Risk Reduction) legislation that is now being made operational. The Government's National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) and the National Disaster Management Coordination Agency (BAKORNAS PB) have also initiated a long-term, intergovernmental, public/private national dialogue to establish a practical, working National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction, based on the internationally agreed United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Hyogo Framework. This national strategy is now being taken further by the preparation of Local Action Plans for Disaster Risk Reduction in partnership with local governments and communities such as in earthquake affected Yogyakarta and Central Java. Further, the Annual Government Work Plans for 2007 and 2008 contain substantial budgets and programs for pre-disaster risk reduction based on the link between development practices and disasters.

The current window of opportunity to integrate disaster risk reduction (mitigation) into development decision-making (which also includes adapting to the effects of climate change) must now be seized and expanded upon. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with initial funding from the United Kingdom is positioned to help in the process by bringing international experiences and expertise to Government disaster mitigation programs. To this end on Tuesday, the Government will be launching a new programme called "Safer Communities for Disaster Risk Reduction in Development" (SC-DRR) to further realize its intent to make disasters a critical part of national and local level development decision making.

This new program will help strengthen and expand the current policy, legal and regulatory frameworks to further enhance the growing supportive regulatory environment for disaster risk reduction actions by individuals, businesses, local governments and national government agencies. It will also help establish and/or strengthen institutional systems and partnerships that support decentralized disaster risk reduction integrated with local level development. Further, it will support the development of education and public awareness programs to make development/disaster linkages better understood and practical solutions to reduce disaster risks more widely known. Finally, the programme will fund the implementation of a wide range of disaster risk reduction demonstration projects that will show how disaster risks can be reduced in communities along Indonesia's coastlines and in its villages, towns, cities, districts and provinces.

With the successful implementation of this programme and other disaster risk reduction initiatives, Indonesia will soon be well placed to become a world leader in long-term disaster risk reduction along with other forward looking nations in the region such as Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. Given the high levels of damage and loss of life that have been setting back Indonesia's development over recent decades, these important new initiatives and the direction that the Government and people of Indonesia have set should be recognized and applauded.

The writer is Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, UNDP (Source: The Jakarta Post)

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