Presiden Joko Widodo meninjau lokasi bekas tsunami di Kampung Pasawahan, Carita, Pandeglang, Banten, Senin (24/12/2018). Presiden menginstruksikan para Menteri serta jajaran pemerintah daerah terkait untuk segera membangun tempat relokasi dan menyalurkan bantuan bagi para korban bencana tsunami. ANTARA FOTO/Asep Fathulrahman/foc.

Sunda Strait Tsunami Further Proof of Indonesia's Poor Disaster Preparedness


DECEMBER 24, 2018

Jakarta. The deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck Central Sulawesi at the end of September this year should have been ample reason for the government to take immediate action to improve the country's early warning system, but the devastating Sunda Strait tsunami over the weekend shows Indonesia still has a long way to go in this regard.

Thousands of people in Banten and Lampung were affected by Saturday night's tsunami, believed to have been caused by undersea landslides that followed an eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Monday morning that the death toll stood at 281, with more than a 1,000 people injured and 57 still missing.

The huge waves also swept away cars and destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing nearly 12,000 people.

Police officers and volunteers a victim from a building in Banten that was destroyed by the Sunda Strait tsunami. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said Indonesia is in dire need of a new early warning system that would detect disasters more effectively.

"The BNPB is coordinating with related institutions to prepare a presidential regulation for a multi-hazard early warning system," Sutopo said, as quoted by Suara Pembaruan.

He added that the Sunda Strait tsunami should serve as momentum to incorporate new technology into the country's tsunami early warning system so it could also detect those triggered by undersea landslides or volcanic eruptions.

Saturday night's tsunami, which officials described as rare because it was not caused by an earthquake, was first thought to be an unusually high spring tide.

"There was no tsunami early warning on the evening of Dec. 22, 2018. The lack of equipment for an early warning system made the tsunami undetectable before it occurred. There were no signs of an impending tsunami, and the public was unable to evacuate in time," Sutopo said.

Indonesia's current system consists of tidal gauges, buoys and seismographic sensors. Despite Sutopo's assertion that the system had so far been successful at detecting quake-triggered tsunamis, none of the country's 22 open-water tsunami buoys have been operational since 2012 due to vandalism and poor maintenance.

In the wake of the Central Sulawesi quake and tsunami, Sutopo raised the importance of developing a network of seafloor sensors as part of the country's early warning system, and said the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) was capable of this task.

Not all disaster-prone areas in the archipelago are equipped with such systems, or even early warning sensors. This also applies to other types of disasters, such as landslides and floods.

Pacific Ring of Fire

Indonesia's geographic location on the so-called Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines and volcanoes around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, makes it prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Several major earthquakes have rocked the archipelago so far this year, including a magnitude-7 that killed more than 550 people on Lombok Island in West Nusa Tenggara in August, and a magnitude-7.4 followed by a tsunami, which killed more than 2,000 people in Central Sulawesi in September.

Since 2004, the country has experienced several major earthquakes and tsunamis, some of which resulted in significant loss of life.

Read: These Were Indonesia's Biggest Earthquakes and Tsunamis Since 2004

Insufficient funding is one of the biggest shortcomings when it comes to an early warning system and disaster mitigation efforts. Further evidence of this is the BNPB's disaster management budget, which, according to Sutopo, has been declining over the years.

Data provided by the Ministry of Finance shows that less than Rp 800 billion ($49 million) was allocated to the agency this year, compared with Rp 1.8 trillion in 2017.

But Indonesia's problems also extend to the fact that many of the sirens used to warn of incoming tsunamis are not functioning properly, having either been damaged or stolen.

The BMKG currently has only 56 sirens across the country, while an adequate number is 1,000. There are also limited evacuation areas and evacuation signs.