Disaster Preparedness and Resiliency: Indonesia


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Population: 246,900,000
Major Threats: Floods, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruption, Tsunamis

Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farms and Fishers, Coastal Communities;

Locations Affected: Sumatra and Java (most at risk)

Industries Affected: Agriculture, Fishing, Manufacturing

Compounding Issues:Urban Migration, Poor Land-use Planning, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change;

World Risk Index Ranking: 33/173

Global Climate Risk Index: 72/178


With 17,000 islands and over 80,000 kilometers of coast, Indonesia is vulnerable to sea-level rise and myriad natural disasters. Floods are the most the common hazard, but the unpredictability and wide-spread devastation caused by earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions make geological disasters much more threatening. The World Bank has estimated that 40 percent of the country’s population, or around 90 million people, are vulnerable to disasters .

The national government has created a de-centralized structure to prepare and respond to disasters and climate change. However, these structures are often lacking and funding is frequently diverted from preparation and mitigation to emergency response.

Despite the national government’s allocation of one percent of its budget to disaster and climate change mitigation and a number of active donor agencies and INGOs, local NGOs find it difficult to access funding, and many lack the organizational capability necessary to mitigate disasters. Partly, this is because it is government policy to direct aid agency and INGO funding to strengthening government preparation and response at all levels, rather than directing it to civil society.

International donors and grantmakers have the opportunity to support these small local organizations doing community-based disaster preparedness. From climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector, to awareness raising and evacuation planning in vulnerable areas, Indonesia will need wide-ranging support from the international donor community to overcome the threats posed by climate change and disasters.


The southern and western islands, specifically Sumatra and Java, are the most vulnerable areas and are exposed to a number of hazards including earthquakes, floods, landslides, and volcanoes. Topography and unstable soil conditions put these islands at especially high-risk for landslides. High populations coupled with poor infrastructure and land-use planning lead to higher risk for large-scale disasters. This is exacerbated by urbanization and poorly enforced zoning, which leads to households settling in hazard prone areas. The Ministry of Public Works reports that close to 25 million people are living in informal settlements exposed to disasters .

Though the national government has put forth great effort to reduce the number of deaths due to disaster, the economic losses still remain high for Indonesia, at 0.3 percent of GDP, or approximately $1.5 billion annually . Major earthquakes can cost as much as three percent of GDP in damage, while earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and droughts all put food security and agricultural livelihoods at risk.

To mitigate crop loss caused by natural disasters, investment is needed to implement drought resistant seeds, crop diversification, and early warning systems. Flood management and agricultural infrastructure are also necessary to reduce risks from inundation and soil erosion .

Environmental degradation, such as deforestation and destruction of protective reefs, mangroves, and wetlands, is also an issue leading to landslides, floods, and intensified storm surges. Deforestation removes organic materials that absorb rainfall, resulting in large surface water runoff. With a large portion of the population residing in low-land areas, the environmental loss heightens their vulnerability .

The National Agency for Disaster Management (BNBP) reported that the capital city, Jakarta, is sinking 3.5 centimeter a year, and approximately 40 percent of the city lies below sea level making it highly susceptible to flooding . A contributing factor to the increase in floods is land subsidence. Informal well drilling for groundwater extraction leads to lowered ground surface, and consequently, flood. The city plans to widen the rivers that flow through Jakarta to prevent the possibility of water overflow; however, many residents along the river banks are resistant to resettling due to their dependency on the natural environment .


Like much of Southeast Asia, climate change dramatically increases the risk of natural disasters for Indonesia. It intensifies storms and extreme weather, causing floods and droughts. These changes have an impact on food production and natural resources. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) predicts that for every one degree centigrade rise in temperature, Indonesia’s rice yield will decrease by 10 percent . Indonesia is also known to contribute significantly to carbon dioxide emissions by burning forest to clear land. Deforestation can lead to increased or more severe landslides and flooding. These man-made forest fires cause up to 300,000 deaths a year and also negatively affect the air quality in neighboring countries .

Indonesia has the fourth largest amount of coastline in the world and as a result is greatly affected by rising sea levels and changes in rainy seasons. However, policy and legislation directly relating to Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) is at an early stage of development.

A number of CCA programs and initiatives have been introduced by national and international NGOs in recent years, focusing mainly on the following areas:

  • Awareness raising
  • Adaptation to and mitigation of effects of flooding, drought, deforestation and sea level rising
  • CCA risk assessment
  • Green jobs such as green entrepreneurship, sustainable tourism
  • Organic farming technique
  • Livelihood, food and water security


Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanic Eruption

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire with 129 active volcanoes, Indonesia is vulnerable to both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions . Due to their unpredictability and widespread effect, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are the most threatening hazard faced by Indonesia. Earthquakes and tsunamis alone account for 28 percent of all disasters in the country, second only to flooding .

The 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the province of Aceh killed over 165,000 people in Indonesia and cost the country $4.5 billion in GDP. This disaster also sent a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, bringing the death toll to over 230,000 in 14 countries. Two years later, another earthquake shook the provinces of Yogyakarta and Java, affecting 3.2 million people.

Volcanic eruptions also take and disrupt lives. In 2010, Mount Merapi, literally translated as Fire Mountain, erupted and displaced over 300,000 people. More recently, Mount Sinabung in Northern Sumatra and Mount Kelud in East Java erupted in February 2014, killing 34 and displacing over 130,000 people combined .

The Ministry of Finance established Maipark, the Indonesia Earthquake Reinsurance Pool, to provide affordable insurance premiums based on the government’s hazard zone. The coverage is provided to houses, offices, malls, factories, communication towers and schools, and it includes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fire, and tsunamis. Yogyakarta, one of the most vulnerable regions in Indonesia, insured public assets of $90 billion in 2010 but drastically dropped to $20 billion in 2011 due to a decrease in budget .



At 39 percent of all disasters , flooding has the largest impact on people’s livelihoods and can cause significant damage to urban centers, including Jakarta, Medan and Bandung. Heavy rainfall occurring in the western provinces can inundate these densely populated areas. In 2007, the Bengawan Solo river basin flooded Central and East Java, causing around $170 million economic damage.

Due to its naturally low-lying topography, the capital of Jakarta and its 10 million inhabitants are extremely vulnerable to flooding. With 40 percent of the city already below sea level, and an average sinking rate of 3.5 centimeters each year, its vulnerability will only get worse. Major flooding has already occurred in 1996, 2002, 2007, and 2013.


Adaptation & The National Government

The Government of Indonesia has put in place structures and processes to play a leading role in disaster management. Since 1999, the Indonesian government has followed a policy of decentralization with both decision-making and funding being transferred to more than 30 provincial and over 400 district levels. This was reflected in the Disaster Management Law, passed in 2007, which requires the government to establish Disaster Management Agencies at national, provincial and district level. The National Disaster Management Agency – Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (BNPB) – was established in 2008. As a part of the decentralization effort, local disaster management agencies—BPBDs—have begun to be established in provinces and districts throughout the country. These provincial BPBDs are in a position to promote best practices among their respective districts and provide technical and operational support before, during, and after disasters occur within the province. However, often these local agencies do not have the technical knowledge or skills necessary to provide such support. Many government staffs struggle to develop disaster mitigation plans because, despite receiving training, they are still unclear about what disaster risk reduction means in practice and how to translate a policy framework into concrete programs. For 2010-2012, the BNPB created the National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (NAP-DRR), to allocate a budget for disaster management, establish a risk financing and insurance scheme, raise awareness and implement safety standards .

When disasters do occur, loss to public infrastructure puts a strain on the government’s budget to restore and rebuild public facilities. The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) is the primary institution for disaster mitigation, emergency response, and recovery. The DMA works with other ministries to carry out disaster management projects. Coordination with other national agencies still remains a challenge because differences in priorities and lack of information .

Due to the disconnect between the national and local government, only 18 out of 33 provinces have established municipal disaster management agencies to deal with disaster relief, recovery, and readiness. Local governments rely on the national disaster fund and are reluctant to use their provincial budgets for disaster management. The DMA reported that many local disaster management agencies have limited human and financial resources, inadequate equipment, and lack disaster preparedness plans.

Adaptation & The United Nations

UNDP has been working with local communities to educate them on earthquake emergency response to help them identify early warning signs and to better prepare them for disasters. UNDP is working with provincial governments to raise awareness on disaster management and integrate risk reduction education to school curriculum. The local government officials are taking an active part in disseminating disaster preparedness information through local TV and radio programs .

Adaptation at the Local Level

Due to the nature of agreement between government of Indonesia and donor agencies, support from donor agencies are mainly government to government in nature. This essentially means that almost all donor activities are aimed at strengthening government agencies rather than local NGO capacity. When there are opportunities for NGOs to access donor agencies’ funding, it is mainly for INGOs as there is limited capacity for local NGOs to access the funding directly. As a result, local NGOs focusing on disaster resiliency are short of both funding and management capacity. Plan International conducted an assessment for local partners in 2012 and found 40 NGOs across Indonesia that have sufficient technical capacity. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), through funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), worked directly with five local NGOs for emergency response after earthquake in Sumatra in 2012. Similarly, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has worked directly with a few local NGOs for disaster preparedness since 2010. These local NGOs are usually active in a network facilitated by donors or INGOs.


Indonesia is the top recipient, after Pakistan, of overseas development assistance for disaster risk reduction at $558.4 million from 2006-2010, with Japan funding 80 percent of the total . Japan focuses most of its contribution on flood prevention and control. In 20 years, from 1991-2010, Japan funded a total of $846.3 million in flood mitigation measures and $227.9 million for disaster risk reduction.

According to a report by the UN, the government allocated roughly one percent of national GDP to disaster risk reduction investments in 2012 -a significant increase from less than 0.6 percent in 2006 . However, the World Bank claims that the budget reserved for disaster response reduced significantly from 2.1 percent to 0.8 percent from 2006 to 2010.

INGOs and donor agencies also play a role in preparing Indonesia for disasters, including UNOCHA, UNDP, USAID, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Aid, and other initiatives such as Multi Donor Trust Fund. INGOs such as Plan International, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, and HOPE Worldwide are also active in Indonesia.


Though Indonesia is working to mitigate disasters and address climate change at many levels, local NGOs and CBOs still have trouble accessing funds. Give2Asia recommends that international donors work through these local organizations to address needs in their target communities, thus building organizational capacity as well as implementing projects. Opportunities for donors include:

  • Implementing early warning systems
  • Training and education on evacuation plans and shelters
  • Climate change adaptation for agricultural workers through drought resistant seeds and crop diversification.
  • Jakarta-based flood prevention programs
  • Training volunteers as first responders in disaster prone areas.
  • Providing expertise and funding for local governments to develop disaster mitigation plans.