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Monday July 24, 2006

“Earthquakes are part of God’s creation to maintain the balance in the universe” said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a sermon on Saturday at Jakarta ’s largest Istiqlal mosque. The Indonesian archipelago sits astride the Eurasia , Indo-Australia and the Pacific plates that are unstable and continue to collide against one another. is also part of the Ring of Fire of volcanoes that stretch from the Indian Ocean north to the Pacific Ocean . God has given this archipelago to us, Indonesians, to be our home. While it has natural disasters, this land is also abundantly blessed with fertility, and is rich in natural beauty, mineral resources, and bio-diversity. It is, therefore, up to us Indonesians, as a nation, to manage wisely both this God-given wealth as its disasters, said the President.



In the past week President Yudhoyono has been busy giving “lectures” to all levels of society, from evacuees of the most recent earthquake and tsunami in the south of Java to leaders in Jakarta , on geological realities in . This is because the President is fully aware that, faced with continuous huge disasters during the past year, many – if not most – Indonesians will prefer to believe in mysticism – if not in superstitious – explanations, rather than seek scientific and rational clarifications.



And, as the magnitude of the tragedy sank in as hundreds of victims were discovered and buried the following day, and thousands more were in evacuation, this latest disaster was now threatening to move into the political arena.




In , issues normally become of national political concern when they happen in Jakarta . And, it so came about that, not only was Jakarta rattled by the earthquake of Monday, 17 July which had its epicenter in the south of Java, - located south east from Jakarta, - but on Wednesday 19 July at 17.18 hrs, Jakartans were again surprised by a quake of 6.2 magnitude on the Richter Scale.


This time, though, its epicenter was located south west of the capital, in the Sunda Straits between the islands of Java and Sumatra – where the mighty Krakatau volcano stands watch ominously. 



Another reason for concern was that the government had been blamed by the international press for negligence to warn locals in time of the oncoming tsunami that would strike south of Java despite international warnings, thereby causing the death of more than 600 victims.  



This conclusion was triggered by a statement made by the Minister for Science and Research, Kusmayanto Kadiman that was reported around the world by the Associated Press: “Both the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings after Monday's undersea earthquake, but "we did not announce them," Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said, (as reported by AP). Furthermore, the report continued: Kadiman said received the bulletin 45 minutes before the tsunami hit. "If [the tsunami] did not occur, what would have happened?" he (Minister Kadiman) told reporters in Jakarta ” as reported by AP.



Hereupon Parliament called Minister Kadiman for explanations. In his defense, Kadiman said that he was misquoted. He had just landed at airport from the when he received information of the quake through SMS on his cell phone, he said. The message was sent by the Meteorological office (BMG) in Jakarta , relaying information received from the Japan Meteorological Office and the Pacific Tsunami Warning System. And indeed, Kadiman added, his Ministry is not the appointed authorized agency to issue warnings to the public. This duty is entrusted to the Meteorological and Geophysics Office (BMG), explained the Minister.



However this may be, the damage to ’s international image has been done, how apparently ineptly the government has handled this latest natural catastrophe.



Why no warning of the oncoming tsunami in Monday’s quake?


Technical problems faced to inform locals in time of the oncoming tsunami were later explained by Fauzi of Indonesia’s Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics (BMG). Problems to reach local residents in time were compounded by the speed at which Monday's tsunami struck, explained Fauzi, with just 20 minutes interval between the 6.8 magnitude undersea earthquake and the arrival of the tsunami on shore, made it impossible to warn people in time. For, said Fauzi, it currently takes scientists up to 60 minutes to receive and analyze the data from 30 seismological stations and send out a warning.


Another problem that ensued was that telecommunication lines to the stricken areas were cut down by the quake, causing the few available lines from Jakarta to be jammed by worried relatives, and, therefore, no available phone line was free for BMG to warn the authorities in charge.


However, work is now under way to improve the system, said Fauzi. These are:


  • Thirty more seismological stations are to be installed this year


  • A total of 160 will be in place when the network is completed in 2009, cutting the time taken to receive and process earthquake data to less than five minutes


  • At present two ocean pressure sensors - part of the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (Dart) system - are in place. Another 15-20 Dart buoys are planned by 2009


  • Four land-based tide gauges are now in place in Aceh, Nias island, Padang and Bali . An international network spanning the Indian Ocean continues to be updated and expanded


  • A network of sirens will also be placed along coasts where people are too poor to own telephones or radios. 


Nonetheless, establishing such a complex new monitoring system inevitably "takes time", said the official of BMG  – not to mention funds, expertise and skilled manpower (editor)


Accelerating Installment of the Tsunami Early Warning System by 2007



Later in the week, Vice President Jusuf Kalla explained, that, after the Aceh quake and tsunami at the end of 2004, the government had planned to place early warning equipment along areas that were most prone to earthquakes, especially along the trenches west of Sumatra, south of Java and Bali, and on to the Banda islands.   However, the entire system was  to be in place and installed in stages, and completed by 2008-2009 only, in line with available budgets, which in total would need around Rp.1.2  trillion in funding. 



Therefore, until today, in the first stage, tsunami warning buoys had been stationed along the west of Sumatra only, but none yet in the south of Java. This is because, in addition to financial limitations, placing buoys south of Java is more complex due to the fact that the ocean south of Java is mostly deep sea with hardly any islands or shallow parts to tie the buoys to.



However, in view of the recent quakes and tsunami, President Yudhoyono has instructed the cabinet to accelerate the installation of the tsunami warning system to be completed by 2007, if possible, said VP Jusuf Kalla.



Communications Minister Hatta Rajasa further explained that the entire system needs 160 seismographs, and 600 units of accelerographs (to measure the speed of waves), as well as other supportive equipment. 


Whereas, at the present moment only 36 seismographs are installed, with 24 only being capable to go on line with the Meteorological office, or a mere 20% of the entire planned system.



For this year, however, more seismographs are planned to be installed to total seventy. 


However, funds for the equipment and their installation can not be sourced from the Annual Budget alone, but hopes to receive assistance from , and , said Minister Hatta Rajasa.



The Final Toll caused by the Earthquake and Tsunami



 On Saturday, the death toll from Monday’s quake has surpassed 600, with 120 small hotels and one 3-star hotel (Hotel Surya at Pangandaran), and hundreds of homes of local resident completely flattened


In its latest bulletin, Associated Press reported that the death toll from the Indonesian tsunami has risen to 659 after emergency workers reached previously inaccessible areas along Java island's southern coast, the government said Saturday. Another 330 people are missing.


Drajat Santosa, a National Disaster Management Coordinating Board official, said nearly a hundred bodies have been found over the last 72 hours in parts of Ciamis district that had been cut off by a broken bridge. The death toll has climbed steadily in recent days, with police and army teams hunting for bodies in the ruins, while others took their search to the sea, reports AP.  


The President had immediately ordered the military and police to assist in emergency proceedings, including the search for bodies under the rubble. Emergency measures must be over within a week from the disaster, while recovery measures must start immediately thereafter, ordered the President. Because of its close location near Bandung and other population centers, evacuees were able to receive assistance within hours of the quake. 


On Sunday, after measuring damages incurred by the earthquake and the tsunami on the Pangandaran coast, Bakorsurtanal, ’s National Land Survey Bureau, assessed that last Monday’s quake measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale. Tsunami waves of 5.9 meters height hit shore some 50 minutes after the earthquake at a speed of 80 km. an hour, reported Metro TV.


Bali educates public and tourists on Earthquake and Tsunami Preparedness



Today in Bali, as a precaution, the local government of Denpasar plans to set up 10 billboards along the Sanur beach and in the city, as well as distribute some 5,000 posters and leaflets to inform and educate residents and tourists alike to be earthquake and tsunami prepared.



In the latest development, on Sunday afternoon, 23 July at 15.23 West Indonesia time, an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter Scale was reported by BMG, with epicenter in the Bay of Tomini , some 90 km. south of the town of Gorontalo in North Sulawesi at a depth of 33 km. below the sea surface.  Although a tsunami was feared, none mercifully occurred.



(Sources: Kompas, Bisnis ,, AP, Metro TV)                                    (Tuti Sunario)