Archive for the ‘Disasters’ Category
The Jakarta Post, September 22, 2011 The Brunei Times, September 23, 2011
Forest fires and haze have become an annual problem for Indonesia. During the dry season, forest fires always occur, especially in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Haze covers the sky; causes problems for the transportation sector; reduces economic activities; and stimulates health problems.
The problem has not only become a domestic affair but also affects Indonesia’s reputation in other countries. Singapore and Malaysia are two of the most adversely affected foreign countries due to the smog generated from the forest fires. This is called negative externalities by economists. We might still remember how the Malaysian government sent hundreds of fire squads, called “Bomba”, to help Indonesia to fight forest fires in 1997. The forest fire tragedy that year was one of the worst forest fires in Indonesian history, in which the smog even reached Thailand and the Philippines.
We have witnessed several tragedies in banking sector in Indonesia lately. Irzen Octa, the holder of credit card issued by a multinational banking company, died while discussing his credit card bill with debt collectors. Separately, Malinda Dee, a former Citibank employee, allegedly embezzled from her customers.
At the same time, our society has also been suffering from massive ecological calamities. Flash floods resulting from deforestation have become a never-ending story. Ecosystem catastrophes as a result of poor mining practices are commonplace. People in Sidoarjo just marked five years of misery caused by the Lapindo mud tragedy. There are clear signs that the balance of our natural ecosystem is in peril. The latest caterpillar population boom is also part of that indication. These are signs of significant disruptions to the natural processes.
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.
Amid news about a massive 9.0 Richter scale earthquake and a powerful tsunami that have hit Japan, there was little reporting about a flash flood that struck Pidie Regency in Aceh. Scores of people died, hundreds of homes were devastated and many residents were displaced (The Jakarta Post, March 14). Torrential rain around Halimon Mountain, a place where Hasan Tiro proclaimed the free Aceh movement in 1976, created an inland tsunami which washed away several villages in Tangse district.
When the governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, visited the location, he insisted that illegal logging was the main cause of the flooding. Illegal logging is truly a kind of forestry-related crime that has significant economic and ecological impacts. Thousands of hectares of forests have been damaged by this activity. As a result, environmental destruction has become worse and natural disasters such as flooding have become commonplace.
Indonesia has become a land of tragedy. Just after the flood tragedy in Wasior, West Papua, an earthquake-triggered tsunami hit Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra. While we were still shocked by those disasters, Mount Merapi erupted. Hundreds of people have been killed in the recent calamities. Natural disasters have become a great challenge for Indonesians.
There are two impacts of disasters: Economically and psychologically. In terms of Indonesia’s economy, natural catastrophes damage property and stop economic activity, which consequently result in significant financial loss for the people. Furthermore, the series of natural disasters create more burden on the national budget to finance post-disaster rehabilitation. On a macro scale, the increase of natural disasters in this country directly multiplies the number of people living in poverty.
After a decline in his popularity, Kevin Rudd was sacked as the leader of Australian Labor Party by his own party parliament members, on June 24. Fears that the party could lose to the opposition in the upcoming elections were reason enough for the party members to appoint another figure as leader. Julia Gillard, who was a deputy prime minister, was thus appointed to replace Rudd. Since the Australian constitution states that the leader of the winning political party is automatically the country’s prime minister, she was directly appointed to be the new prime minister. This was also a historic moment for Australia, because Gillard is Australia’s first female prime minister.
Rudd’s performance in fact can not be rated as unsuccessful. His popularity had remained high until his last couple of months. Rudd was regarded as successful in maintaining Australia’s high economic growth during the recent global financial crisis. His foreign policy, which showed his willingness to embrace the Asian community, was also well received in the region. The apology to the stolen generation of Aborigines was also accepted, even though it is not a finished agenda.
We have witnessed rainy season disasters across this country for the last couple months. Floods have incurred significant economic losses. The latest flood along the Citarum River bank in West Java, for example, destroyed thousands of hectares of paddy fields and disrupted the textile industry. Considering what has already happened, we have adequate rational reasons to say that the problem will be much more complicated in the future. The fundamental question is: What have we learned from these disasters?
Floods in watershed areas correlate with damage to that area’s ecosystem. Vegetation loss on the surface makes soil unable to absorb rainwater. Consequently, the rate of run-off increases each time it rains. Eventually, rivers cannot absorb the excess run-off, causing floods.
The problem is not only evident during the rainy season. Another kind of disaster haunts the dry season. The soil’s inability to absorb water during the wetter months means underground water reservoirs are compromised, resulting in low river-water levels and drought during the dry season. Subsequently, economic activities will also be affected. Low water levels, for example, cannot run hydroelectric power turbines. Paddy fields also suffer from the lack of irrigation.