Disaster Mitigation Agency Head: Public Safety the Heighest Law

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - EARLY this December, together with more than a thousand earthquake and tsunami survivors, the National Disaster Mitigation (BNPB) chief Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo spent the nights near the Pasie Jantang beach in the Lhoong district of Aceh Besar regency. Scores of tents were erected in the grass field facing the Indian Ocean. Arriving on Friday, December 6, Doni stayed in one of the blue tents with the tarpaulin-covered floor which can accommodate five.

    Over the weekend, Doni reviewed the Katana program launched on the momentum of the 15th anniversary of the Aceh tsunami. One of the program activities is the earthquake and tsunami simulation drill participated by people of various backgrounds who acted as disaster victims. “Through the Katana program, more families across Indonesia will become aware of what to do before and after a disaster,” Doni explained to Tempo’s Devy Ernis who followed the event.

    On December 26, 2004, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean floor, around 160 km west of Aceh. The powerful tremor triggered up a 30 meter-tall smong, the Acehnese term for tsunami. On landfall, the gigantic waves devastated much of the west coast of the Aceh province, reaching the capital, Banda Aceh, and killing at least 230,000. In Pasie Jantang village, around 300 out of 1,000 residents escaped death as they were out of the the gampong (village) at the time of the tragedy.

    Since his appointment succeeding Willem Rampangilei on January 9, Doni has dealt with a myriad of disasters: from earthquakes, floods, landslides, droughts, tornadoes to forest fires. On several occasions amid his schedule in Aceh, the former commander of the army’s special forces (Kopassus) explained to Tempo about his appointment as the BNPB chief, the disaster mitigation activities and the plan to incorporate the disaster response lessons into school curricula. Albeit his status as an active officer in the army, Doni refused to answer questions unrelated to disaster management.

    After the breakfast on Saturday, December 7, Doni, accompanied by acting Aceh governor, Nova Iriansyah, visited the tents one by one. Several tents had handicrafts and local products such as coffee and bags on sale. Sipping his coffee, Doni sat relaxed by the beach.

    What is the significance of the Katana program?

    The program aims at raising public awareness about disasters, particularly earthquakes and tsunami. It is a continuation of the Destana (Disaster Resilience Village) program which took off last July-August. Our target is for, in the next few years, every family in Indonesia will have acquired sufficient knowledge about natural disasters.

    Why is it targeted to the family?

    Based on research done in Japan, the family is the second entity after our own self who can save our lives in the event of a disaster. The rate of survival through self-reliance is around 35 percent, through the help of family members 31 percent and by other parties only 2 percent.

    Why was Aceh picked as the place to launch the program?

    Earthquakes and tsunamis apparently tend to repeat. Layers of tsunami deposits that are 7,500, 5,400, 3,300 and 2,800 years old were found in the Ek Lentie cave. This is the reason Aceh was chosen, because of this evidence, and also to commemorate the disaster 15 years ago.

    Where did the fund for this program come from?

    About three years ago, a World Bank delegation offered us a disaster management program. The government agreed to accept the loan. So did I with pleasure and on one condition: that the fund be for capacity building, not for technology.

    How big was the figure?

    The Bank provided US$160 million in total to be used in the next five years. It was split between two agencies. BNPB received US$75 million, and the rest went to the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG). We’ve used ours to develop Katana as one of the priority programs.

    Utilization of disaster management funds have proven to be prone to corruption in several regions. How do you ensure the money is not abused?

    That’s the responsibility of the regional governments, not the BNPB. The fund will be handed over to them.

    Can BNPB not monitor the fund’s utilization, say for the construction of temporary shelters for victims?

    Construction of shelters alone has a lot of problems, but BNPB cannot possibly build them because the regional administrations hold the mandate for that. However, nowadays project proposals are online, so everyone can see them. We cannot forbid any party from participating in the tender processes. If you have products, go ahead and put in the e-catalogue. I make decisions when the regions make the requests. If numbers are already there (online), then I have no burden. Everything is on record.

    You’ve traveled around Indonesia since you became the BNPB chief. Which is the most disaster-prepared region?

    Well, it’s difficult to say. You say you are prepared and then a disaster strikes and many lives are lost. Whether one is ready or not depends on a lot of factors. You conduct drills for daytime and then disasters occur at night. The disaster risk index can be only be proven if there are few fatalities.

    Which regions have the least casualties?

    I don’t mean to compare one region against another, because time is an important factor. One of the regions I observed is North Konawe. The floods last July swept away many houses, but there were no casualties. (Flood water submerged seven North Konawe districts in Southeast Sulawesi, from early till mid-June this year. More than 18,000 people were displaced, 370 houses destroyed and 1,837 others were inundated.)

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine