The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Enhancing Early Warning Systems for Disaster Management in Indonesia

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on September 2, 2011

A recent report by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) noted that Indonesia faces the highest risk from tsunamis worldwide. The evaluation of this report was based on the number of areas and residents exposed to active tectonic faults. The data also highlights the importance of disaster preparedness. In terms of physical vulnerability, Indonesia is less vulnerable than Japan. However, due to the lack of effective disaster mitigation and contingency measures, Indonesia’s level of risk is higher than Japan’s.

This recent report serves to further validate previous reports that highlight Indonesia’s vulnerability to disasters. These include reports by the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Bank, World Economic Forum and the United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. The reports note that Indonesia’s lack of preparedness has partly been due to the difficulties it faces in implementing disaster preparedness mechanisms. For tsunamis, despite strong advocacy for the critical need of early warning systems particularly after the 2004 Asian tsunami, this still remains a work in progress. Installing apparatuses on the ground for the Indonesian Tsunami Warning system, for instance, was hampered by geographical constraints and vandalism especially in remote areas like the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra.

A new scientific discovery may provide a solution to these constraints. Scientists in Brazil, France and the US have discovered the possibility of creating a global remote sensing system for tsunamis via monitoring the ionsphere the sea surface level or the pressure of the water near the seabed. This system would therefore mean that early warning equipment are not required to be erected on the ground, as the tsunamis can be monitored by the use of satellites. This development thus has the potential for enhancing existing early warning systems in the future, and would contribute to more effective disaster preparedness mechanisms in Indonesia.

That said, technological advancements in early warning systems are only one part of ensuring effective disaster preparedness mechanisms. A culture of preparedness must also be cultivated within state institutions as well as communities. This is to ensure that immediate and effective responses in times of disasters extend to various levels of society. This would include the need for proper social safety nets for communities in the event that they have to leave behind sources of economic livelihoods. As seen during the Mount Merapi eruption in 2010, despite early evacuation warnings to communities living close to Mount Merapi, there was little sense of urgency amongst residents, many of whom did not want to leave their properties behind. As such, effective awareness amongst residents, as well as guarantees or insurances for lost livelihoods, must complement early warning systems to ensure better coordinated responses to disasters.

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