Although Indonesia has the highest number of people living in tsunami-prone areas, public awareness about disaster response remains low, an official says.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), told a press conference on Monday that 2 percent of the country’s population, or around five million people, live in areas vulnerable to tsunamis.
“That’s the highest number in the world, followed by Japan and Bangladesh,” he said.
He said Indonesia’s long coastline, second only to Canada’s, combined with its position straddling several tectonic plates, placed Indonesians at high risk of tidal waves triggered by earthquakes.
The problem, though, is that no matter how frequently the disaster strikes or how intensively the government campaigns to educate the public, most people still do not understand how to respond when a tsunami-capable quake strikes, Sutopo said.
“Take the most recent earthquake in Aceh, for instance,” he said, referring to a magnitude-8.6 quake in April that prompted a tsunami warning.
“Although awareness campaigns and evacuation drills had been carried out many times, there was still chaos. Three-quarters of the people tried to evacuate in their vehicles.”
Aceh was devastated in December 2004 by a massive tsunami spawned by a larger quake in the Indian Ocean. More than 170,000 people died there in that incident.
Besides earthquakes and tsunamis, Indonesia is also particularly prone to volcanic eruptions, as well as other disasters such as tropical storms and floods.
Sutopo said the island of Java was the most at risk from these natural disasters. Home to 58 percent of the country’s 237 million people, it is also one of the most densely populated islands in the world.
Sutopo said Indonesia was compiling an integrated data system to analyze the risk from future natural disasters and the potential losses.
“The data will serve as a baseline, a benchmark for our disaster mitigation efforts, which can be used elsewhere around the world,” he said.
The data is being compiled by, among others, the BNPB and the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA).