Banda Aceh, Indonesia - When a powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the Aceh province in the northern tip of Indonesia on 10 January there was no damage or casualty—a very different situation compared to seven years earlier when a devastating quake and tsunami killed more than 230,000 people across South East Asia, more than 70 percent of them in Aceh alone.
Now, the Acehnese population is better prepared to face disasters.
Despite the nervousness, this time most residents knew what to do and how to react when the forceful quake hit, following an effective government-led public campaign with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-sponsored disaster preparedness training programmes.
“I was still at the office with my friends when [the earthquake] happened. We took a hiding underneath the tables and we waited until the quake stopped before venturing out of the building,” said Razi Gade, a 32-year old Acehnese. “I tried to remember what I learnt.”
Gade was one of 2,500 Acehnese who took part of a UNDP-supported training on disaster preparedness in the past two years. Teachers, journalists, workers, men and women, were taught basic skills on how to react when an earthquake hits, recognizing signs of danger such as a noticeable fall in the water level. These thousands of Acehnese are replicating the training session in their own communities, helping expand the awareness raising campaign.
Teuku Firsa, UNDP disaster risk project manager, said residents’ reaction to last week’s earthquake indicated a vast improvement of knowledge amongst the population in Aceh.
“There was no sense of panic, which was different from the situation say three or four years ago,” Firsa said. “Even in more remote Simeule island in Aceh, people knew what to do: They rushed to higher ground but there was no commotion.”
In addition to playing a critical role in helping the national and local government prepare and carry out the public awareness campaign, UNDP has helped develop a provincial risk map of key areas in Aceh, supporting the national and the local government in designing strategic policies on disaster risk reduction.
One key focus has been education. In partnership with Aceh’s education department, a UNDP-assisted project is shaping the curriculum for elementary, junior and high school so students are better prepared to respond to disasters. With simple activities such as map drawing and disaster simulation, students in Aceh are now better equipped with basic survival knowledge and skills on emergency response.
UNDP has also helped create a post-graduate degree programme on disaster management at a leading Aceh university and has provided technical advice on setting up a think-tank for disaster science and mitigation in the province.
Local broadcasters are also keeping up with informing the population. Prominent community members, key government officials and UNDP experts regularly take part of TV and radio programmes to discuss the importance of disaster preparedness and emergency response.
Looking ahead, as part of the government’s disaster risk reduction campaign in partnership with UNDP, a comprehensive five-year disaster management plan is likely to be endorsed this year, helping ensure that Indonesians will never again experience the horror and devastation of the December 2004 tsunami.