After experiencing an earthquake that triggered a tsunami and then a volcano eruption one day apart, we have all realized we live in a natural disaster-prone country. Lying in the Ring of Fire, our country has experienced many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Looking at geological records, we find that many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have struck and they will certainly happen again in the future.
The biggest eruption was called the super eruption of Mount Toba, which occurred about 73,000 years ago, causing six years of winter and drastically reducing the population.
Another large eruption was Tambora’s explosion in 1815, which caused a year without a summer in 1816. Krakatau’s eruption in 1883, not as big as Tambora’s, triggered a tsunami and killed 36,000 people.
The earthquake that struck Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004, was the world’s third-largest quake ever recorded on a seismograph, creating a huge tsunami that claimed more than 230,000 lives.
Being aware about this, however, is not something that should cause regret and scare us. We must be optimistic and think positively.
Many other countries experience frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Japan, for example, is home to 10 percent of active volcanoes in the world and experiences many earthquakes every year.
Instead of giving up, the country has become successful in mitigating the impacts of those disasters.
Therefore, we can learn from Japan in developing technology to manage volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis as well to educate society to deal with potential disasters.
On the bright side, Mother Nature has been generous to us. Geologically, our country is not only prone to disaster but also rich in minerals.
Our climate, too, has been benign for living creatures so we have a vast tropical rainforest, one of the most productive and biologically rich ecosystems in the world.
We also have more than 17,000 islands and the surrounding seas, which are rich in marine biological resources.
So, we must be grateful for the natural capital and manage them wisely for the greatest benefit of
our people as mandated by our Constitution, not only for the current generation but also for the future generation.
So far our leaders have failed to manage our natural resources to bring prosperity to our nation, confirming the paradox of plenty or a hypothesis that natural resources are a curse instead of a blessing: Countries and regions with abundant natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.
Some of our intellectuals, mesmerized by the prosperous city-state of Singapore, even go so far as
saying that possessing natural resources is not important; what is more important is having high-quality human resources.
While the second part of this statement is correct, the first part is absolutely wrong. Natural resources are the foundation of civilization, even the foundation of life.
No civilization can survive, let alone thrive, without a sustainable supply of natural resources. History has taught us that the great civilization of Mesopotamia and Maya collapsed when their environment deteriorated, failing to supply the natural resources required to support the activities of civilized human communities.
City dwellers often get the feeling of independence from nature because there is a concentration of energy and resources in the city brought in by political power and money concentrated in the city.
A city dweller has easy access to drinking water just by turning on a tap, even when people in drought-affected areas have to walk several kilometers to fetch water from dwindling springs, or have to wait in line to receive water from the government’s mobile water tank.
While villagers eat certain fruits only seasonally, city dwellers can get practically any fruit, even that produced abroad, at any time, regardless of season.
The ease of access to money and resources in the city has caused urbanization. More and more people are moving to cities.
But that feeling of independence in the city is just an illusion. A city is not a self-supporting system. It can only survive with the support of the surrounding country sides and undeveloped areas.
A city usually imports most of the essential resources for life, such as water, food, energy and minerals from countrysides, and at the same time exports waste to countrysides.
Ecologically, a city is a parasite of the surrounding countrysides and undeveloped areas (Simmons, 1996).
So, a city-state or any country that has only a high quality of human resources but no natural resources can thrive only if there are other countries rich in natural resources that are willing to sell their precious natural resources at a low price for various reasons such as ignorance or corruption in the government.
Without having its own natural resources, a country is dependent on other countries and its future is not secure.
Having abundant natural resources is, therefore, essential for the survival and success of a country. We are fortunate to be blessed with abundant natural resources.
We could have built a prosperous nation and a great civilization had we managed our resources properly.
But, so far we have failed to do so, not because our governments have lacked the knowledge, but because it has lacked integrity.
Unless we succeed in building a strong and clean government, our natural resources will continue to deplete and finally be gone. We will never become a prosperous nation, or even worse, we may not be able to feed our growing population.
The writer is a lecturer at the University of Bengkulu’s School of Forestry and currently writing a book at James Cook University, in Queensland, Australia.