Indonesia hit by devastating tsunami
The Sunda Strait tsunami in Indonesia on 22 December 2018 killed more than 400 people and injured over 7 000. It was a devastating end to 2018 for Indonesia, which faced a range of disasters: earthquakes on the island of Lombok in July and August, an earthquake and tsunami impacting the island of Sulawesi in September and the Lion Air crash in October. The deadly tsunami in Indonesia was triggered by a chunk of the Anak Krakatau volcano slipping into the ocean, officials have confirmed, amid calls for a new early warning system that can detect volcanic eruptions. At least 430 people were killed and many buildings were heavily damaged when the tsunami struck, almost without warning, along the rim of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands late on Saturday.
Anak Krakatau had been spewing ash and lava for months before a 64-hectare (158-acre) section of its south-west side collapsed, an Indonesian official said. “This caused an underwater landslide and eventually caused the tsunami,” said Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of the meteorological agency.
Images captured by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite showed a large portion of the southern flank of the volcano had slid off into the ocean, scientists said. The fact that the tsunami was triggered by a volcano rather than an earthquake meant no tsunami warning was triggered, scientists said. Coastal residents reported not seeing or feeling any warning signs before waves of up to three metres high surged in.
Hundreds of military personnel and volunteers spent Monday scouring beaches strewn with debris in search of survivors. At least 1 459 people were injured and more than 600 homes, 60 shops and 420 vessels damaged when the tsunami struck.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the chief spokesman for the Indonesian disaster agency, said the country had no early warning system for landslides or volcanic eruptions. “The current early warning system is for earthquake activity,” he wrote on Twitter. “Indonesia must build an early warning system for tsunamis that are generated by underwater landslides and volcanic eruptions … Landslides triggered the 1992 Maumere tsunami and the Palu 2018 tsunami.” He also said Indonesia’s tsunami buoy network had not been operational since 2012. “Vandalism, a limited budget and technical damage mean there were no tsunami buoys at this time,” Sutopo said. “They need to be rebuilt to strengthen the Indonesian tsunami early warning system. “Anak Krakatau has been erupting since June 2018 until now. Yesterday’s eruption was not the biggest. The October-November 2018 period had a larger eruption.”
The death toll is expected to rise as 128 people were still missing on Monday following the disaster. At least 1 600 people have also been displaced. Dody Ruswandi, a senior official at the disaster agency, added that the rescue effort was likely to last a week. Sutopo warned locals to stay away from the coast. “People should not carry out activities on the beach and stay away from the coast for a while,” he told reporters.
The University of Queensland volcanologist Teresa Ubide said Anak Krakatau had been erupting for the past few months, which was not unusual. “It seems like the volcano is active at the moment and it may happen again,” Ubide said. “The volcano is very close to the shoreline so … there wouldn’t be much time to warn because it’s close and the tsunamis can travel very fast.” The lack of seismic activity that would accompany an earthquake was also significant, she added.
Richard Teeuw of the University of Portsmouth said sonar surveys were needed to map the seafloor around the volcano, but that work usually took months. “The likelihood of further tsunamis in the Sunda Strait will remain high while Anak Krakatau volcano is going through its current active phase, because that might trigger further submarine landslides,” he said.
Kathy Mueller from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said aid workers were helping evacuate injured people, bring in clean water and tarpaulins, and provide shelter. She said the group was preparing for the possibility of diseases breaking out in the tsunami zone, adding: “The situation, and the death toll, will remain fluid over the next days and even weeks.”
The water washed away an outdoor stage where a local rock band, Seventeen, were performing, killing their bassist and manager. Other people who had been watching the band on the beach were missing.
Azki Kurniawan, 16, said his first warning about the tsunami was when people burst into the lobby of the Patra Comfort hotel shouting: “Sea water rising.” Kurniawan, who was undergoing vocational training with a group of 30 other students, said he was confused because he had not felt a big earthquake. He said he ran to the car park to try to reach his motorbike but discovered it was already flooded.
“Suddenly, a one-metre wave hit me,” he said, his eyes red and swollen from crying. “I was thrown into the fence of a building about 30 metres from the beach and held on to the fence as strong as I could, trying to resist the water, which felt like it would drag me back into the sea. I cried in fear ... ‘This is a tsunami?’ I was afraid I would die.”
Despite the loss caused by the Sunda Strait tsunami, there has been no request for international support from the Indonesian government. Existing resources and longstanding partnerships with NGOs operating within Indonesia have been deemed sufficient to support the immediate and long-term response. Compared to the Sulawesi disaster, the Sunda Strait tsunami is about a sixth of the scale of destruction and is easier to respond to due to its close proximity to the capital city of Jakarta.
But there are still affected communities whose lives have been impacted, including those on the islands of Sebuku and Sebesi, who were evacuated and yet to return home.
Devex spoke with two NGOs given approval by the Indonesian government to help rebuild: the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and World Vision. They shared insight into the response as well as how they are combatting donor fatigue to maintain awareness of the ongoing support needed throughout the Pacific.
The Sunda Strait response
Wahana Visi Indonesia, the Indonesian arm of World Vision and IFRC are among the locally based NGOs supporting the response to the tsunami. Both have supported responses to the Lombok earthquake and Sulawesi tsunami as well. “We are on the ground with a very large operation in Indonesia, Wahana Visi Indonesia and they have been there for a long time,” said Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision Australia, explaining to Devex that the relationship has existed since the 2004 tsunami.
Wahana Visi Indonesia has been able to deploy very quickly into the region . The big difference is when organisations are not on the ground and the Indonesian government needs to choose who they want to come in and partner with them. The larger the scale of the emergency, the more likely the government is to request that international help. But we are able to just get going,” Rogers said.
The current response involves providing health assistance, psychosocial support, intervention and child protection, family kits, water and sanitation, and aid. Over time it is anticipated that support from World Vision International will include the rebuilding of schools and homes as well as other livelihood support, so people can go back to earning an income.
The Indonesian Red Cross is similarly working on the immediate response, said Rosemarie North, Asia Pacific communications manager at IFRC: “The focus is still on the emergency help, especially for people still in evacuation centres. There are people who came off islands who still cannot return home. It is not clear when they are going to return home.” she said. IFRC is working with Indonesian authorities to determine the next steps required.
Fundraising to support the Sunda Strait communities
Despite no call for international support, there has been a limited need for financial support. “Local resources can cope,” North said. “It was a tsunami, and not an earthquake or landslide, so we can accept that buildings are much stronger.” World Vision International has an appeal to support the work of Wahana Visi Indonesia, with a current target of $3 million. “We will review this periodically,” Rogers said. “At the moment that $3 million is for the next nine months for the direct and urgent need from the tsunami.”
But cascading disasters mean organisations such as World Vision have to convince donors of the need for preparedness. “What we’re building into our commentary here for donors to understand is that when there is a crisis on top of a crisis,” she said. “So we are being very transparent with donors that this is a cumulative and continuous challenge for Indonesia. We have donors that give specifically to an emergency fund with us and that essentially goes to the area most in need. For this particular emergency that is what we are drawing upon,” Rogers said.
While IFRC is not currently raising funds for the Sunda Strait tsunami, it is still raising funds for responses to the Lombok earthquake and Sulawesi tsunami. North said it was becoming hard to raise the funds required with the recent tsunamis overshadowing the earthquake. “The Lombok earthquake was on 29 July 2018 and at the end of January it will be six months,” she said. “We’ll be thinking about ways to promote that and bring some attention back.”
Communication strategies and engagement of the media are important to help broaden donors thinking from reactionary to proactive. But Rogers said the magnitude, impact, and challenge of a disaster response needs to be taken into consideration when determining the public engagement and calls for donations.
“It needs to be a response to each situation. Obviously, any impact of this nature is tragic, however, our assessment and you can see in the Indonesian government assessment, is that they can manage this situation a lot better. And my view is that you have to use your time with the public carefully.”
Despite there being less emphasis on the Sunda Strait tsunami, there was ongoing media interest — and North explained that there was strong interest from Canada and Europe in particular. And innovative strategies such as the use of drone footage to show the after-effects of the tsunami were helping to communicate the dramatic impacts of tsunamis in the Pacific.
Changing the conversation from response to preparedness
The unpredictable nature of many disasters in an era of climate change makes the investment in community resilience and building local capacity by donors and partners critical to saving lives and livelihoods. “One of the things we do need to do better, is explain how our long term development work actually does build resilience,” Rogers said, explaining that preparedness is where both lives and money is saved. Rogers shared the story of a Wahana Visi Indonesia staff member who was in the Sunda Strait village just before the tsunami hit. Understanding the signs, a higher sea level, garbage in the water, ocean rumblings and an odd vibration, resulted in her and her family leaving the restaurant 10 minutes before the tsunami hit and the restaurant was destroyed.
“What her story is telling us is that she had the education and knowledge to be able to recognise the signs and take action to protect her and her family,” Rogers said.