Disaster-preparedness drive in West Sumatra

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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Tsunami operation: disaster preparedness, Indonesia
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Tsunami operation: disaster preparedness, Indonesia

There is no mincing words: “West Sumatra is a supermarket for disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis,” Gamawan Fauzi, governor of the province, said as he opened a two-day National Exhibition of Disaster Preparedness in Padang, the capital city, in December. “Society must be provided the knowledge to minimise fear,” Fauzi said, “and the system of disaster response must be perfect.”
There was no more convincing sign that communities in West Sumatra are beginning to take that challenge seriously than a mock disaster drill staged at the Padang event in which 13-year-old Muslim schoolchildren carried stretchers of the dead and wounded, quickly triaged and treated those who had survived, extinguished a small fire and, in under-five-minutes, erected a medical tent to care for and shelter casualties.
One 13-year-old, Athika Irdiyani, told IRIN: “We have practiced for the earthquake and the tsunami repeatedly at school, with the help of Tsunami Alert Community (KOGAMI), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), as well as LIPI [the Indonesian Institute of Science]. That’s where we learned to bring the tent, the stretcher and the medical equipment.”
Some 5,000 people attended the third national disaster exhibition - the first was held in Jakarta in 2005 and the second in Bali in 2006 - where they learned through discussions, disaster story-telling, earthquake simulation and a variety of skits, games and drawing competitions about the mechanics of earthquakes and tsunamis and how to prepare for and survive them.
The event was sponsored by LIPI in cooperation with the West Sumatra government and with the support of local, regional and national organisations and UN and other international agencies. One goal was to build better coordination in local communities with regional and national organisations involved in responding to and preparing for disasters, according to Irina Rafliana, public education coordinator of LIPI. She said it was only one of a number of awareness initiatives in West Sumatra.

The 2004 tsunami had not just been a wake-up call for Indonesians in general, but for organisations like LIPI as well. LIPI, which is government funded and reports to the president, had for some years produced a series of reports on disasters and translated scientific findings, but Rafliana said, “they were reaching only a limited audience.”
“Before 2004, no one had ever had training regarding earthquakes and tsunamis,” Rafliana told IRIN. “The community was eager for information.” She said: “People were asking LIPI what is an earthquake? How does it happen? How do we prepare for it?” and added: “They simply didn’t believe a tsunami was possible.”
The LIPI public education coordinator guesses that over 20 percent of the people would probably not be prepared to evacuate in a serious disaster. “Our biggest challenge is how to facilitate the process to get the community to evacuate quickly and safely.”


“A key part of that process is training people,” said Rafliana. For example, in West Sumatra, LIPI, in cooperation with KOGAMI, has trained 30 local motivators to understand the natural processes that occur in earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters and how to prepare, as well as to be able to teach basic medical and rescue procedures. Most importantly, they have to be able to train local trainers in the community so knowledge spreads.
Patra Rina Dewi, executive director of KOGAMI, said the local organisation, with the support of UNESCO-ISDR [International Strategy for Disaster reduction] and in cooperation with the social welfare department and education department, was also actively engaged in helping schools adopt standard operating procedures for disasters, including establishing evacuation routes. They also plan to do the same for villages. “We want it so every village has set procedures for a disaster and that any member of a family can answer questions about the village’s disaster planning and evacuation strategies,” Dewi said.
Just prior to the disaster exhibition in Padang, a team of six LIPI motivators travelled to Pasirnantigo, a fishing community of some 10,000 people 7km north of Padang to discuss disaster preparedness with some 50 people in the community.
Nurhayati, a resident of Pasirnantigo, was one of them. Sitting in a small shop the walls displaying posters promoting earthquake and tsunami awareness, she told IRIN: “Before the Aceh tsunami, we were never scared by earthquakes, high tides or tsunamis, but now we are.” She said the training by LIPI, KOGAMI and other agencies had helped her and her family to know what to do if disaster struck. “Each family has prepared a run bag with food, clothes, medicine,” she said. “We’ve even taught our children: If they are in school and an earthquake or tsunami happens go directly to a high place.”

Not easy to find high ground

All well and good except for one big problem: “The real constraint in Padang is that it is flat and sandy,” Eddi Junaidi, a Padang fire brigade officer and head of a local community in Pasirantigo, told IRIN. Finding high ground is a real challenge, he said, and nowhere more so than Pasirantigo. “We have only one road in and out of here for 10,000 people and there are no high places!”

Sudi Prayitno, a former UN consultant on disaster management for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who is the head of the Legal Aid Foundation in Padang, told IRIN: “If you look at evacuation routes for the Padang area, they don’t have the capacity for people to evacuate the 7-10km into the hills to high ground.” In fact, when a 12 September earthquake happened and people panicked, “there was a three-hour traffic jam of cars trying to get up into the hills,” said fire brigade officer Junaidi.
Some 400,000 people in Padang are at risk in a large-scale tsunami, Dewi of KOGAMI told IRIN. “We have been advocating widening roads and bridges and providing vertical shelters.” It appears the government is listening.

New crisis centre due to open in 2008

The deputy head of the provincial coordination unit for disaster management, Rumainur, told IRIN: “We have established with French support, a new crisis centre that will become operative in 2008.” He said it would improve the government’s ability to communicate information during a disaster and forestall panic. As for the evacuation routes, Rumainur said, “a budget item will be included in the 2008 budget for expanding more than one evacuation road for the Padang area… Public buildings that are tall will also be utilised in an evacuation.”
For all their efforts, KOGAMI and other agencies concede it will take time before they achieve Governor Fauzi’s goal that the system of disaster response be perfect. “We don’t yet have good coordination on local disaster preparedness,” she said, but added: “Compared to 2005, we are far better prepared and have had four big earthquakes since then, three this year alone.” She says she sees steady improvement in the response of Padang’s residents with each new disaster.
West Sumatra lies in the middle of the western coast of the island of Sumatra and has a population of just over 4.2 million, according to government statistics. The province’s low-lying coastline, with mountainous regions rising further in, faces the Indian Ocean and stretches 375km from North Sumatra Province in the northwest to Bengkulu in the southeast. Padang is the capital and largest city in the province with a population of over 750,000.

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