Opinion

2014: Year of disasters
— and hopes?

Nowadays our attention increasingly turns to disasters — flooding, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and typhoons in various places. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) predicted last month that even more extreme weather is likely to hit the country during these next two months, marked by intensified rainfall of 200-400 millimeters per month.

Yet, better mitigation has not been taken up by the general public. Lack of public awareness regarding the effects of these disasters and environmental preservation has created another disaster resulting from human behavior. Littering, land squatting, improper drainage maintenance and uncontrolled groundwater consumption are some disastrous human factors that have worsened environmental impacts.

Emerging leaders give us hope — but they won’t be able to go it alone with all these disastrous habits.

High dependency on fossil fuel energy and imported gasoline has made us, a former member of OPEC, a country of energy scarcity. After the subsidized gasoline price was corrected by the government last year, along with the effort to limit its consumption by private car owners through radio frequency identification, the public was shocked again with the state-owned oil company Pertamina’s announcement it would increase the price of 12-kg LPG canisters from the 2009 price of Rp 5,850 (48 US cents) to Rp 9,350 per kilogram.

Following the uproar over the almost 60 percent increase, Pertamina reduced the final increase by Rp 1,000, at the cost of its continuing business losses. Even with this small increase, the hike and scarcity of LPG led many to resort to firewood and charcoal, which are likely to create worse impacts to the environment. Along with the public’s reluctance to embrace an energy shift, the Industry Ministry imposed a controversial low cost green car policy in September 2013 to supply cheaper and eco-friendlier automobiles, particularly for the middle class — which, as many pointed out, would ensure increased consumption of subsidized fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, corruption remains business as usual in managing national developments, as indicated by the arrest of scores of high-ranking politicians and government leaders from the local to national level by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). In striking contrast, the rise of exceptional new leaders such as Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil has indeed blossomed new hopes for the country’s future. While public distrust toward legislators and the ruling parties’ government apparatus escalates, these alternative leaders keep moving forward to tackle various development issues by ignoring the temptation of political bargaining, which could promote their interests as well as support political parties’ agenda.

However, overblown expectations are naïve. In our society, strong dependence on a hierarchical patronage system places the leaders at the top of the pyramid at the helm of the decision-making process. Their words and actions could be a magical mantra to relieve prolonged sufferings. Yet, their apparent breakthroughs would be useless if society does not rid itself of corrupt and disruptive behavior.

These new leaders are not superhuman. Certainly, they could become role models in implementing good governance. But they will not be able to overcome disasters without broader participation from the affected beneficiaries and various stakeholders. In the case of Jokowi’s resettlement of squatters from the Ria-Rio reservoir to low-cost apartments in Jakarta for example, some efforts have so far been effective to reduce flood levels. Unfortunately, the urban kampung custom has also been brought to the new settlement where littering, careless building maintenance and similar hazardous behavior persist.

Thus, the emergence of promising leadership would lose significance immediately if the society fails to empower itself. People should not merely complain and surrender the possibility of a pursuit of a better livelihood on the shoulders of their leaders. They should engage actively in innovative programs, including that of the local administrations. Without such self-empowerment, society allows for corrupt regimes that spoil citizens with government assistance requiring no change in behavior — and therein lies the real disaster.

The writer is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Diponegoro University, Semarang in Central Java.

Paper Edition | Page: 6

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