(The following is an excerpt from the SYLFF Newsletter No.17, Jan 2007)
Andri Rosadi and Jiah Fauziah
The great tsunami that hit Aceh, in Sumatra, Indonesia, and several other areas in the world on December 26th, 2004, and that killed hundreds of thousands of people, has been followed by many other natural disasters in Indonesia. Two months after the tsunami, Nias Island suffered from a big earthquake that also killed people and destroyed houses. Then on May 27, 2006, Yogyakarta, one of the most important cities in Java, was also shaken by a great earthquake from the south while people were anticipating the eruption of a volcano located north of the city. About two months later, a tsunami hit Pangandaran and some other southern areas of Java. Actually, during the above-mentioned time many more earthquakes occurred in other parts of Indonesia, but fortunately they did not cause much damage for people. Nonetheless, all these disasters made many Indonesian people aware that they live on moving lands that might experience many more such serious calamities.
The earthquake disaster that occurred in May 2006 in Yogyakarta, the city where our SYLFF institution, Gadjah Mada University is located, was the main inspiration for the seminar. That earthquake caused more than six thousand deaths and reduced thousands of houses to ruins. When responding to such a tragedy, one important thing to consider is how to develop the independence of the community for facing any future disaster it might experience. This was highlighted in the case of the aforementioned disaster because the victims had to rely on the local government of Yogyakarta, who were themselves too dependent on central government when it came to aiding victims. Moreover, although it is true that the victims needed assistance from all parts of society, when assistance from others is believed to be the only solution, the result is a mental dependence on the part of the victims, along with other consequences that negatively affect the post-disaster reconstruction process. It appears that such was the case in Yogyakarta. Several months after the great calamity, people still seem to be suffering and longing for help.
Based on this reality, the SYLFF Fellows Association of Gadjah Mada University held the aforementioned seminar regarding the problem. It is expected that the seminar results will be used as input for various relevant segments of society. The association invited two speakers to the seminar: Dr. P. M. Laksono, an anthropologist and lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Gadjah Mada University, and Ms. Estuning Tyas, a current SYLFF fellow and graduate student at Gadjah Mada University, specializing in disaster management.
In his talk, Dr. Laksono commented on the slow reaction of both local and central government in responding to the disaster. The local government relied on the central one, whereas in this case, disaster response was mainly the responsibility of the local government, because the impact of the May 2006 disaster was regional, in contrast to the case of the tsunami that hit Aceh, causing a disaster that was national in scope. In this situation, according to Laksono, the factor that ended up playing the most important role was the media. Thanks to their nationwide and worldwide networks, they succeeded in raising public awareness and support on a widespread level, resulting in the huge amount of help received. Nevertheless, Laksono also criticized the media for their tendency to present the news in a way that created bias and adversely influenced how people regarded the disaster.
Besides the media, there are several other elements of the community that play important roles in responding to disasters. These elements are informal and outside the governmental structure, usually offering help spontaneously and based solely on humanitarianism. Their weakness lies in lack of organizational management, which often results in many obstacles to their being able to help effectively. One of the obstacles is corruption or deviousness on the part of some parties that use the disaster situation for their own benefit.
Nonetheless, the effectiveness of certain groups in the community has proved to significantly contribute to assisting the disaster victims and lessening their suffering. Based on this fact, what needs to be done in the future is to further develop such community-based disaster response measures and to learn from past problems.
In regard to community-based disaster response measures, one thing that must be emphasized in advance is the empowerment of the overall society in the handling of a disaster. This must be based on the ability and potential of the society. The main obstacle in this regard is that a society usually breaks apart when a disaster occurs, making it impossible for the full ability and potential of the society to be utilized to solve problems. Another obstacle is that the people tend to forget the disaster very quickly, so that they do not anticipate future disasters. If disasters are experienced so frequently, a society should realize that it needs to formulate a model for handling disasters in ways that rely mostly on the society’s own capabilities and potential. However, this is still yet to happen.
The other speaker, Estuning Tyas, emphasized the need to socialize disaster knowledge in the community. It is a fact that people in Indonesian villages, who generally have a low level of education, do not have enough knowledge about disasters. This limits both their view of disasters and their ability to handle their own problems in a disaster situation.
To increase the ability of a community to handle a disaster, Estuning discussed several steps that Eko Teguh Paripurno, a disaster-relief/crisis-management expert, has suggested: (1) Identify potential disaster areas; (2) Map these disaster areas; (3) Identify specific danger-areas and the possible risks associated with them; (4) Identify the socio-cultural characteristics of the communities in the danger-areas; (5) Formulate procedures and identify steps to be taken in dealing with the disasters; (6) Develop the social systems to help people to learn how to anticipate and handle disasters, based on the potential and strengths of their community; and (7) Develop natural-disaster prevention and response technologies. In order to make all these steps community based, they must include the involvement of the community: together by and for the members of the community, not only by experts and the government.
An additional important point to be considered here is that disaster education is still not included in schools’ curricula in Indonesia. Similarly, at the family level, children have not been taught to recognize, understand, and deal with disasters. Therefore, the first and most important step to implement all the following steps, is to educate people, especially villagers, to make them aware of the socio-geographical condition of their locales in regard to possible disasters. To be effective, this educational model must use many kinds of engaging media, such as films, to deliver the message.
In brief, both Estuning Tyas and Laksono emphasized the need for disaster education in order for a community to increase awareness of its own strengths and weaknesses so that it can handle its own problems if a disaster occurs. As a follow-up to the discussion, the SYLFF Fellows Association of Gadjah Mada University plans to organize some social action projects aimed at educating people in villages around Yogyakarta so that they can recognize their own potential for handling any disasters that might befall them. Fortunately, the SYLFF fellows of Gadjah Mada University have different academic backgrounds: economics, cultural studies, political science, geography, and conflict resolution. Such a combination of multi-disciplinary backgrounds holds great potential for engaging in a variety of actions reflecting different approaches.
The actions are planned to involve formal and informal measures. Formally, the association will provide disaster education in schools and for some small community groups. Informally, it will hold some community entertainment programs that will indirectly educate a larger number of people. It is hoped that these actions will greatly contribute to the communities’ ability to effectively deal with disasters.
Andri graduated with a major in Islamic civilization from the University of Al-Azhar, Cairo, in 2003, and received an MA in anthropology from Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, in 2006, in which he was supported by a SYLFF Fellowship. He has worked in several organizations, including Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia and Muhammadiyah Student, both based in Cairo, as a coordinator. He was a teacher in Medan, North Sumatra, in 1996, in Kediri, East Java, in 1997, and in Yogyakarta, in 2003–04. Since 2004, he has been involved in community development work in Ngaglik Village, Sleman, Yogyakarta.
Jiah graduated with a major in English from Gadjah Mada University in 1999, and earned a master’s degree in linguistics from the same university, for which she was awarded a SYLFF Fellowship.