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Volcanic Eruption Causes Devastating Tsunami in Indonesia

Benjamin Jackson, MSc Violence, Conflict and Development

On the 22 December, Indonesia was once again staring down the barrel as the archipelago was hit by another natural disaster; years of reconstruction now lay ahead.

Anak Krakatau, a volcano which lies off the Sunda Strait and Indonesian islands Java and Sumatra, erupted leading to a devastating tsunami. Three-quarters of the volcano’s edifice collapsed into the sea causing undersea landslides and tidal waves which headed towards the beaches.

The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency’s (BNPB) most recent figures show that 426 people died, 7,202 were injured and 40,386 displaced, whilst 1,300 houses were irrevocably damaged. In the days after the tsunami, ECHO reported that more than 1,650 people of Banten province were affected by subsequent floods caused by Cikalumpang River overflowing its banks. Despite concerns that a further tsunami could hit, coastal areas were declared safe by the end of December.

Rescue efforts were complicated by heavy rain. The risk of contagious diseases in relief shelters continues to be high. Among those to respond to the disaster were the BNPB and the National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), whilst local NGOs, the military, and the Indonesian Red Cross helped to search for survivors and provide emergency food aid as well as clean drinking water.

“the adhoc relief provided in the tsunami’s aftermath demonstrated the power of locally-led emergency response initiatives.”

Those first on the scene, however, were community volunteers. Despite not being recognised as official aid providers, the adhoc relief provided in the tsunami’s aftermath demonstrated the power of locally-led emergency response initiatives. Despite the scale of the tsunami, neither the government nor the Indonesian Red Cross requested international assistance.

In the last few weeks, there have been damning inquests into how Indonesia was devastated by yet another natural disaster. It has been revealed that there were no early warning systems in place to detect the impact of the volcanic eruption.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, an Indonesian civil servant who works at the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management, tweeted that he blamed the failure of the warning systems on “vandalism, budget limitations, and technical damage”. In response, Indonesian President Joko Widodo blamed their failure on the fact that tsunamis are usually preceded by earthquakes as opposed to volcanoes.

Further investigations will be telling, yet at present, Indonesians will be living in fear of future disasters. Just in September this last year, over 2,000 people were killed by a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the city of Palu, on the island of Sulawesi. Christmas also marked the 14th anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami, of which Indonesia was worst affected. To this day, it remains one of the most devastating natural disasters in history.

Lying on the crux of major continental plates, Indonesia is particularly prone to volcanoes and tsunamis: the Pacific, the Eurasian, the Indo-Australian and the Philippine. It is also part of the ‘Ring of Fire’ where the majority of the world’s earthquakes occur. 13% of the world’s volcanoes are in Indonesia, and eruptions are therefore frequent.

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