IDEP Foundation

Understanding Ecological Disaster for Community Resilience

Understanding Ecological Disaster for Community Resilience

Indonesia has experienced 1,926 natural disasters, based on the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) report. Most of the disasters that occurred until June 2022 were floods (747) and extreme weather (690), then landslides (373) and forest & land fires (karhutla) (92). These four dominating disasters have often happened in Indonesia, and mitigation efforts have been carried out, according to BNPB. Even this disaster institution has declared that Indonesia has experienced an ecological emergency. However, the mitigation efforts sometimes escape the existing problems’ source. According to The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), regular disasters occur due to the increasingly massive environmental damage.

If looking back, environmental damage due to the expansion of industrial society has been going on since the 18th century. When humans can extract, transport, and manage more and more natural resources, which certainly affects natural ecosystems.

Currently, Indonesia seems to perpetuate the form of industrial society because the policiesestablished by this tropical country still open up great opportunities for developing extractive industries–such as mining–and monoculture plantations. All of these developments accelerated without considering the environment’s carrying capacity. When there is inequality, disasters are challenging to deal with – a situation known as an ecological disaster. “Ecological disasters occur as a form of accumulation of failed natural management processes, injustices that lead to a disaster,” said Satrio Manggala, Policy Studies Manager of the National Walhi, at the Home of Resilience event—a side-event of the 2022 GPDRR—on May 24, 2022.

Satrio Manggala gave material on ecological disasters at the Home of Resilience event on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Environmental Damage and Accompanying Disaster

Ecological disasters certainly have a terrible impact, both on nature and humans, in their social and economic situations. Especially if disaster came continuously without a break, that was beyond anything previously imagined by humans: the Lapindo mud. The disaster started in Sidoarjo and became the largest and most destructive eruption ever known. The mudflow first appeared on May 29, 2006, and has never stopped until now. Based on a report from the Nature Geoscience journal, researchers found new data that the cause of this hot mud disaster was Lapindo Brantas. “Right now, we are 99% sure that the hypothesis is valid,” said Mark Tingay, an earth scientist from the University of Adelaide, in an interview with the New York Times.

While most scientists and activists find strong data regarding the causes of the hot mudflow, there are still many people who have not received proper compensation as experienced Sukardi. He only received 1.5 million rupiahs as compensation for the disaster he had experienced for more than 15 years. In addition to mud, this disaster also caused water in the villages around Sidoarjo to be contaminated. Even Warsita–a villager of Gempol Sari–had to pay Rp. 10,000 to buy clean water. “The water is very sticky and not fresh. When mixed with soap, no foam appears. We don’t know what poison is there, but by looking at it directly, something is not okay,” said Warsita.

In addition to taking up people’s living space, the Lapindo mud has taken away all sources of livelihood and has made them more vulnerable. Inequality comes from industrial extractive activities. According to Satrio, the Lapindo mudflow is an industrial disaster that arose because there were no regulations prohibiting industry from operating in disaster-prone areas.

Ecological disasters are not considered in disaster management regulations, resulting in disasters beyond what is imagined to happen. “The recent disasters that often occur plus the climate crisis include floods, landslides, and droughts to fires. This is caused by the failure of natural management in Indonesia because the state sells out our nature for exploitative and extractive industries,” said Satrio.

The industry that Causes Environmental Crisis

Exploitative industrial activities make disasters happen on a local, regional and global scale. Recently, the term climate crisis has been widely discussed. This phenomenon was predicted by scientists more than 50 years ago. “The mining industry also contributes to carbon emissions that increase the climate crisis. This crisis also resulted in another series,” said Satrio.

Increasing carbon emissions will impact hydrometeorological disasters – such as extreme weather, floods, landslides, and droughts – and stronger climate anomalies like La Nina. This phenomenonalso triggers an increase in rainfall between 20-70% and becomes more intense due to climate change. Increased rainfall can cause flash floods, as happened in Batu, Malang.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), a cumulative rain of 80.3 mm lasted for two hours when the flash flood hit. If the ecological conditions in the watershed area (DAS) are maintained, the potential for flash floods can be minimized. The presence of plants and soil organisms around the watershed can create pore spaces in the soil that function as water absorbers and reservoirs.

Other areas that are threatened by flash floods and landslides are Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi. These three areas are also included in the 108 critical watersheds in Indonesia. This vulnerability occurs because the ecosystem in most watersheds is concerned.

In addition to watershed conditions, reduced water catchment areas – such as forests – also potentially cause hydrometeorological disasters. Even cyclones, usually natural phenomena that move in the interior of the sea, can produce multiple disasters in East Nusa Tenggara. Extreme weather, storms, flash floods, and landslides have hit 560 islands; the worst was in Adonara and Lembata. Experts also say that deforestation in NTT has contributed to the disaster. When the soil becomes loose and uncovered, it will easily blend into the water flow without having time to absorb it. This phenomenon also causes flash floods and landslides. “The activities of companies that carry out logging without state control and regulations that are not so strict in regulating their natural management, so that everything is on sale. In accumulation, these exploitative activities can lead to disasters in the future,” said Satrio.


Q&A session in a discussion about the ecological disaster in Indonesia (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Transform in Alternative Way for Sustainability of Nature and Us

The existence of forests is significant. It can also absorb emissions which are the biggest contributors to global warming. Forests have absorbed carbon and integrated it into their leaves, roots, and biomass. However, when forests are drained or converted, the stored carbon will be released into the air and become very dangerous. Barren forest conditions, rising earth’s temperature, and dry land that cannot absorb water will trigger multi-disasters beyond our prediction. “We generally know about forest fires that the palm oil industry clears its land by burning because it is cheaper and faster. Then we all become victims, as a community,” said Satrio, who continued to explain the forms of injustice that emerged from the climate crisis.

Until now, the Indonesian government has not recognized ecological disasters as a disaster. Although scientists, activists, and the public have voiced the impact of disasters caused by extractive industry activities, regulations have not yet reached them. That is what Walhi and several environmental activists are fighting for. “When an ecological disaster is stipulated in the Disaster Management Law, there are mitigation rules. This mitigation can be started by tightening the risk assessment mechanism,” added Satrio, who has consistently fought for the recognition of ecological disasters in the law.

Satrio also expressed his research so far through several recommendations that could be offered. According to him, there will be a capacity calculation when there is an ecological disaster risk study. For this reason, if the company exploits more than the existing capacity, it is declared a violation. In this case, it is necessary to set clear sanctions. In addition, according to Satrio’s observations. Currently, disaster management is only setting out a disaster map. The map is only an early warning effort. But then, development or permits issued to the industry do not have strict sanctions when violated.

The government needs to tighten its regulatory rules by forming regulations that become an umbrella and are integrated with other sectoral policies. “For example, the Disaster Management Law must be integrated with the Minerba Law, the Forestry Law, so that it becomes one of the obligations to comply with the Disaster Management Law,” said Satrio.

In addition to strengthening regulations, the government must fix and strengthen disaster management institutions. For this reason, the relevant institutions not only carry out emergency response efforts but also get the authority to take action. “So far, BNPB has only been given emergency response authority. But no other authority is given to strongly prohibit or reject an industrial plan or development plan that has the potential to cause a disaster,” added Satrio.

The presence of a disaster cannot be stopped, but its impact can still be mitigated. From 2001 to 2021, Indonesia lost9.95Mha of primary forest. Then, the presence of an emitting industry that exceeds the earth’s capacity will certainly contribute to the presence of a hydrometeorological disaster. This activity also needs to be controlled. The efforts that activists have been fighting for so far include ecological disasters in the Disaster Management Act so that there are regulations that can control environmental destruction. (Gd)