The Jakarta Post
In the wake of extreme weather that has devastated parts of Indonesia and claimed dozens of lives, the government is being urged to overhaul the country’s disaster management by introducing disaster literacy in school curriculums, as well as by strengthening its early warning system.
Indonesia’s disaster literacy in general is still low compared to other disaster-prone countries like Japan, a senior researcher has said.
“In Japan, disaster literacy is already internalized. In every school and village, there is training to prepare for disasters. For instance, elementary students are trained once every three months on what to do during earthquakes,” Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) senior researcher Soeryo Adiwibowo said.
While disaster literacy might not prevent disasters from claiming any lives, it can at least reduce the death toll, Soeryo said.
Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) head Andi Eka Sakya said disaster literacy should be introduced through a formal mechanism that could reach a wide range of the population.
“Indonesia is a supermarket of disasters. Therefore, many kinds of disasters have to be integrated in a mechanism so that our disaster literacy can be improved,” he said.
In order for disaster literacy education to be effective, it has to be designed by taking into account local characteristics, according to Andi.
“Every region has differing characteristics. Therefore, local regulations [on disaster literacy education] are needed,” he said.
Being literate in disasters can determine whether one survives. “Usually it’s not an earthquake
that kills people, but panic,” Andi explained.
Disaster literacy is not new for the country. Since 2008, UNESCO and the Education and Culture Ministry have been implementing a natural disaster literacy program in Central Java, Yogyakarta and Lampung. The program aims to mitigate the harmful effects of natural disasters on communities by equipping participants with the knowledge and skills they need to cope.
The program also raises awareness of the risks associated with natural disasters and helps communities to recover from disasters. Most of the program’s beneficiaries are poor adults and out-of-school young people with low literacy levels.
However, the implementation of the program is still far from what was desired because of limited infrastructure, facilities and funding.
Besides introducing a thorough disaster literacy education, the government should also improve the country’s early warning system, which so far has failed to prevent massive casualties in this year’s floods and landslides.
Following the 2004 tsunami, which killed 168,000 people in Aceh, Indonesia introduced a sophisticated early warning system using buoys, sea-level gauges and seismometers that can send alerts to the country’s tsunami warning centers within 10 minutes of a quake.
But all 22 of the early-warning buoys Indonesia deployed after the 2004 tsunami disaster were inoperable when a massive undersea earthquake struck off the coast of Padang earlier this year.
Most of the buoys were broken by vandalism and the government did not allocate enough money to maintain them, which should have cost around US$2.3 million a year.
“We as a country are easy to forget. Once we do something, it goes back to business as usual. Actually the 2004 tsunami was a good entry point for improvement of disaster management, but now it seems that our readiness is declining,” Soeryo said.
Besides better early warning systems for tsunamis, the government is also being urged to improve its early warning system for landslides, a common occurrence during the rainy season in the country.
Landslides have been especially deadly this year, as the country is experiencing an abnormally wet dry season with heavy rains hitting parts of Indonesia.
As of Wednesday, floods and landslides in Purworejo regency, Central Java, had killed 38, with nine people reported missing.
Andi said the government should build more devices that could detect seismic movement.
“This early warning system could detect not only rainfall, but also landslides,” he said.
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