After the Palu and Lombok disasters: a new chapter of disaster governance in Indonesia?

A destroyed house in an earthquake-devastated area at Balaroa village in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11 2018. It’s reported at least 2,045 people have died as a result of earthquakes that hit central Sulawesi and triggered a tsunami. EPA/Hotli Simanjuntak

After the Palu and Lombok disasters: a new chapter of disaster governance in Indonesia?

Two recent major disaster events in Palu in September and Lombok in August have tested current disaster risk governance in Indonesia. Thousands of people were killed and displaced as a result of these disasters. The scale of the impacts in both locations shows that effective governance to achieve disaster risk reduction (DRR) before disaster comes remains a challenge.

Are we doing it the right way? Has society been actively involved to develop a culture of safety in their daily lives?

Indonesia should re-evaluate its approach to disaster management that has been in place since the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Preventive actions

Indonesia enacted a law on disaster management in 2007 and established disaster management bodies at national and local levels.

Indonesia is also committed to achieving a global disaster risk reduction agenda, including the Hyogo Framework for Action and the Sendai Framework. United Nations member states agreed to these frameworks as blueprints to achieve communities that are resilient to disaster. They agreed to change the behaviour of communities to be more prepared for the inevitable shocks and to make safety culture part of development planning and implementation.

Several initiatives have been conducted to support DRR implementation. About a decade ago, the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the government of Indonesia launched the Safer Communities through Disaster Risk Reduction (SC-DRR) program.

The program helped establish policies and regulations to reduce disaster risks. It supported local governments to include disaster risk reduction in their development planning. It strengthened disaster risk education and awareness programs, and demonstrated initiatives that make communities safer.

Interestingly, Palu City was one of the locations for the pilot activities. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) also conducted a similar project to enhance the capacity of local disaster management agencies in Lombok Island from 2011 to 2015.

With so much DRR investment and activities for more than a decade, the communities and the governments should have been better prepared. But, based on amateur videos, we can see how motorcycles and cars were still travelling along the shore of Palu while tsunami waves were coming closer.

Despite ongoing public debate about the failure of Indonesia’s tsunami early warning system (INA-TEWS) during the event, disaster preparedness is not always about the technology. It is also about public alertness and perception of risk. And this is shaped by disaster risk reduction governance before a disaster happens.

Why is Indonesia slow to adopt DRR?

Our previous research highlighted several points why the development process in Indonesia has been slow to include disaster risk reduction.

First, disaster risk reduction was not part of the main duties of local administrations – cities, districts, provinces – until 2014, when the law on local government was enacted, ten years after the Aceh tsunami. As a result, disaster risk reduction initiatives developed following the tsunami were slow to be implemented in the local level.

Currently, with decentralisation, local authorities work according to guidelines provided by the central government.

Second, many cities or districts (kabupaten) still have not yet implemented or even have spatial plans that include specific strategies for disaster mitigation. Ideally, things such as building codes and evacuation infrastructures should be clearly regulated and planned at detailed spatial plan level (Rencana Detail Tata Ruang - RDTR). However, most of our cities and districts have not finalised and authorised their RDTR yet. Of 540 districts and cities in Indonesia, only 40 have stipulated their RDTR.

Additionally, a ministerial-level guideline from the Ministry of Land and Spatial Planning, the national agency for DRR-based spatial plans, has not been released yet. This means local administrations do not have proper planning guidance.

Third, when it comes to implementing DRR, local governments always face financial limitations. The amount set aside for DRR in local governments’ annual budget allocations has increased only slightly. This shows it’s not a priority. Local governments spend more for other local problems, such as poverty and health.

Another source for DRR financing from the central government’s pocket is through the Special Allocation Fund (Dana Alokasi Khusus - DAK). However, our tax revenues has been steadily declining over the years, which means the national revenue and expenditure gap is widening.

New chapter

The last two major disasters show that Indonesia should embrace a new chapter in its disaster risk governance. It should focus on striving to ensure DRR is embedded in development planning, especially at local level. Indonesia’s cities and districts should have disaster-sensitive spatial planning or even promote safety culture in public daily life.

To begin the new chapter, we suggest four key recommendations.

First, strengthen and monitor the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction to different development sectors (e.g. housing and education) so each sector can directly contribute to mitigate risk and allocate a budget for DRR. DRR encompasses a wide range of activities and requires multisector roles and different institutions. However, based on current regulation, DRR is still seen as a sectoral problem in Indonesia, like health and education.

Second, scale up the outreach of activities related to increasing awareness, capacity and collaboration among local stakeholders. DRR is a local act, but local governments and communities often have low awareness and low capacity in planning and implementing DRR strategies.

Third, find alternative financing sources and schemes, such as through insurance, or an international trust fund to secure financing capability to deal with disaster impacts. As the disaster costs are huge, insurance would be really useful for risk transfer and capacity to rebuild and reconstruct after disaster. The collaboration with international partners would also speed up the process and tackle the slow pace of bureaucracy.

Finally, develop a knowledge exchange hub or platform for local governments to share innovative options to increase capacity and awareness, especially best-practices exchange in disaster mitigation. Lessons from Aceh, Padang and Yogyakarta would be useful for Palu and Lombok, as well as other places prone to disaster.

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