Disaster resilient society
The intensity of natural disasters and weather anomalies across the globe seems to be increasing. We saw unusual winter in Europe which was caused by snow storm at the end of 2010. This event created massive chaos in the transportation sector across the continent.
The La Nina phenomenon in early 2011 had created more rain across the Pacific and the southern hemisphere. Flooding has been widespread from Brazil in South America to Australia. In Brazil, the recent floods claimed more than 500 casualties. Australia also experienced widespread flooding from the state of Queensland to Victoria. Brisbane suffered huge losses after the Brisbane River was filled by mega tons of rainwater. In Indonesia, flooding occurred in many places on all major islands, from Sumatra to Papua, killing many people.
Then we came the mega disaster in Japan when a powerful 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed by a tsunami, struck the northern part of the country. Thousands of people were killed by the giant wave. We saw from the video footage how Sendai Prefecture was washed away by the massive water stream. That was not the end of the story, as Japanese people are shadowed by the possibility of nuclear disaster.
However, the world has been impressed by the positive reaction showed by Japanese people toward the disasters. Their attitude toward disaster has been magnificent. As described by Ika Inggas (The Jakarta Post, March 22), in the time of disasters, the Japanese people continued showing their discipline, solidarity and the spirit of ‘gambaru’, which means “do the best until the end.”
The Japanese have shown strong resilience in facing disasters. They have a great capacity to prepare themselves and to recover from the disasters with minimum help from external assistance. Japan has set a fine example of disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery programs, especially from earthquakes and tsunamis. By observing the current situation and how people respond to natural disasters, the important thing is what we can learn from other experiences in dealing with disasters.
According to Siambabala Manyena (2006), there has been increasing attention paid to focusing on how disaster-affected communities prepare for and recover from disasters with minimal help from external assistance. Therefore, there is a need to highlight the importance of resilience rather than just vulnerability. But, where does the resilience come from?
Many believe that the Japanese character and mentality contribute significantly to their attitude toward natural disasters. However, I believe that most societies have their own strong mentality to face hardships and difficulties. Radar Panca Dahana (Kompas, March 23) asked a rhetorical question: “Are we as strong as Japanese people?” He then said we Indonesians have more than enough character and the mentality to be strong in facing calamities.
In terms of natural disasters, Kathleen Tierney and Michel Bruneau (2007) said that there were two important terms: disaster resistance and disaster resilience. Disaster resistance is the ability to provide pre-disaster mitigation measures, including structures, infrastructure elements and institutions that could minimize losses from a disaster. The next level is disaster resilience, which is more about “a concern for improving the capacity of physical and human systems to respond to and recover from extreme events.”
So, disaster resilience is actually not only about strong character or a certain mentality, but also the readiness and the preparedness to mitigate losses caused by disasters. As a country with frequent natural disasters, Japan has built massive mitigation programs. Buildings have to comply with earthquake mitigation structural standards. They also continue to educate their people about natural disasters. The combination of what the authorities have done to prepare themselves and a strong mentality toward dealing with disaster generate a resilient society.
The question of disaster resilience is actually not only relevant for less developed communities, but also developed nations. We may still remember the US authorities’ lack of preparation when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, when in fact, the activity of a hurricane is more predictable than an earthquake or a tsunami.
I’ve ironically been lucky enough to be directly affected by natural disasters in Australia. The last Category Five tropical cyclone Yasi, which struck north Queensland, was terrifying. My experience with tropical cyclones really showed that community resilience in the face of disaster is not just a matter of a mentality. “Queenslanders are tough,” said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. However, the disaster mitigation and evacuation schemes provided by the government contributed significantly to easing the peoples’ feelings of uncertainty. People were kept informed about what was going to happen and they were directed to prepare for the worst scenario. The society is also continually educated about the natural disasters they may face in future.
Therefore, we can’t expect to build disaster resilient societies in our country without preparing the appropriate structures and infrastructure elements needed to face natural disasters. With an increase in the occurrence of disasters, our tasks are much more significant. Our lack of preparation will only create more pessimism and desperation. The authorities need to guide the people by taking appropriate actions and avoiding desperate reactions every time a disaster hits. Desperate reactions will only deteriorate a society’s strong mentality, which could then lead to communal pessimism.
We have to decide our own destiny by applying positive values and measurable actions to face natural calamities. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “keep my words positive, because my words become behaviors. Keep my behavior positive, because my behaviors become habits. Keep my habits positive, because my habits become values. Keep my values positive, because they become my destiny.”
The writer is an ecologist at the University of Bengkulu and an Australian Leadership Awards fellow.