Learning Session with Pak Hamzah

Disasters happen when hazards meet vulnerability. As long as this condition is not fulfilled, disasters can be avoided. A hazard itself can take the form of a tsunami, storm, as well as others. The threat can be classified based on how long it takes place. There are slow disasters such as famine and drought, which happens in a long period of time and tend to affect the capacity of readily available food supplies, as well as fast disasters such as a tsunami, which happens in a relatively short time span. Vulnerability can mean physical vulnerability such as topography, the use of land, and infrastructure, as well as social and economical vulnerabilities faced by people living near the area. It is the poor who rely on a daily income that are most vulnerable, because when a disaster happens, they will not be able to work and will lose their daily income. An example regarding vulnerability would be the town of Padang. Geographically, it is an area with a high risk of landslides. However, it would not have had such a high risk for disaster, if houses (the vulnerability in this case) were not built there in the first place.

A high risk of disaster can also be caused by bad planning. In the case of Padang, water canals had already been built in anticipation of a disaster. However, as the city developed, the canals were neglected and Padang became disaster prone. Besides bad planning, the increase of disaster risk in some areas can also be attributed to the migration of people to coastal regions because their original settlements have already been converted into plantations.

According to Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse”, there are five main causes to the collapse of civilization, which includes environmental damage, human-driven climate change, the issue of the 2012 apocalypse; and carbon emission, conflict between neighbors, relationships between partners, and human cultural responses towards change. The examples of society breaking down he cites are among them, the collapse of the ancient Mayans in America due to environmental damage, climate change, and civil war; the collapse of the Anasazi in North America due to drought, horizontal conflict, civil war, and the indigenous people’s cultural response. If these conditions were to be found in Indonesian society, then the collapse of society in Indonesia is only a matter of time, akin to cracked glass. Therefore, as a response to this problem, Mr. Hamzah points out that Indonesia needs humanists that possess the nation’s good character. For a long time, there has been a certain hierarchy of positions in Indonesia. Usually, engineers stand at the top of this hierarchy, while humanists tend to be put at its bottom. This indicates that the appreciation for this profession is extremely lacking. However, with humanists, our nation would have good character and the causes of society’s collapse as proposed by Jared Diamond can be averted.

Escalated disasters are disasters that are caused by the growing pressure of the increasing human population, the fulfillment of basic needs, as well as places for people to settle and do their activities at centers of vulnerability, both for the have and the have-nots. The first two points are the most stressing, if not most important issue today, considering that as the amount of the human population increases from year to year, the energy needed increases as well. This applies not only to energy, but to other resources as well. The pressure on our planet increases, along with our vulnerabilities. 

The disasters that have happened in this decade shows that hydro-meteorological disasters such as extreme weather, floods, and storms become the most frequent disasters, due to climate change. This is followed by biological disasters such as the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the avian influenza epidemic, while geological disaster show a trend of happening not as much compared to hydro-meteorological and biological disasters. However, the important thing to keep in mind here is that disasters are a repeating natural cycle. The disasters that exist now have happened hundreds of years ago, in one form or another.

The results of a disaster can be grouped into two: disasters that have an effect, and disasters that have no effect whatsoever. A disaster can be said to have no effect if the losses suffered due to the disaster can be compared almost to none. In this process, recovery can be made, while the process of learning from the disaster can either take place or not, depending on the people who experience the disaster. Disasters that have an effect are divided further into two, disasters which cause total destruction and disasters which cause loss, but not total destruction. Total destruction from a disaster means that there can be no recovery and learning process because the subject and object of the process no longer exist. Meanwhile, disasters that cause loss, but not total destruction, can cause two conditions in society: the society can continue on and improve their condition, thus the process of recovery and education takes place, or they can continue on as they were before the disaster happened. For the latter condition, the process of recovery takes place, but the learning process does not. An example for this condition would be the effects of the tsunami to the Aceh people.

There are four types of failures in disaster management. The first is failure in anticipating before the disaster takes place. This is usually caused by a lack of experience in anticipating disasters, or forgetting previous experiences of disasters. The second is failure in receiving the disaster when it takes place. This happens when there is a lack of literature regarding disasters (SOPN), bad management, and landscape amnesia, or the loss of orientation when a disaster takes place. The third is failure to solve problems which stem from two things, rational behavior, and irrational behavior. Failure in rational behavior can take form in decisions taken by the elite which carry certain interests, while failure in irrational behavior can be an apathetic stance towards DRR by the people, apathetic reactions towards the warning system due to the high occurrence of false warnings, and social unrest due to certain factors. For example, a group of people living in a tsunami-prone area refuse to relocate because they have lived there for generations, and fatalistically consider disasters to be a predetermined fate from God Almighty. The last is failure to solve global issues such as climate change.

Local wisdom is one way to reduce disaster risk. For example, on the Simeulue Island located on northern Aceh during the tsunami, there were few victims from this island, because local wisdom dictates that when an earthquake happens and the sea retracts, the people should hurry to higher ground. Another example of local wisdom is the prohibition to make splashes in the water on the river, because it would attract crocodiles. Crocodiles assume water splashes as a sign that there are fished on the edges of the river.  Also, you shouldn’t put your back against the river, as you can be mistaken as a predator in the river like a crocodile. There are many other local wisdoms that can be used to reduce disaster risk.

Written by: Uly
Translated by: Caesar

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