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Apropos the floods and landslides on Java: coping with disasters

Last modified January 24, 2006 20:25

Preparing an invited introductory lecture to a planned discussion at the University of Jember, here in East Java, on what has to be done to much better cope with such calamities as the recent rain water related disasters, I came across a short paper that said it all. I do not want you to miss it.

Kees Stigter, Agromet Vision and INSAM

Preparing an invited introductory lecture to a planned discussion at the University of Jember, here in East Java, on what has to be done to much better cope with such calamities as the recent rain water related disasters, I came across a short paper that said it all. I do not want you to miss it.

Disaster should be considered a forced marriage between a hazard and vulnerability. To cope with impact problems of frequently occurring disasters, their hazards should be mitigated and the vulnerability of people should be reduced, which means fighting on at least two different fronts.

In the case of flood disasters what is badly understood by those that have to carry out policies of disaster impact reduction is that there is a long process involved in for example a flood hazard to produce a disaster.

There is ample evidence that in the most recent cases on Java, deforestation was not involved and combinations of torrential rains and deep slopes were main causes. However, the author indicates that the situation for the impact of the recent disasters there would have been completely different if four policy issues had been properly and routinely figured on the agenda of those in power:

(i) flood mitigation practices. Appropriate flood risk maps in the areas concerned were freely available on the internet since a few years but the follow-up actions were missing. The makers of the maps said earlier in the same newspaper that they were only the monitoring agents and not responsible for awareness at government level. While the governments at various levels indicated not to know how to handle such information!

(ii) disaster preparedness. The relationship between hydrometeorology and social sciences is seen as critical to advancing our ability to cope with flash floods. If there are policies to reduce the impacts of disasters, they are most often related to measures in the much later response phase. But not in the preparatory phase by increasing the awareness and preparatory power of people, in that way reducing their vulnerability. NGOs and other organizational powers at the community level should be involved as a matter of fact! 

(iii) contingency planning and responses. Contingency planning is again a matter of preparedness, but the first initiative is now more at the level of the government and less at the level of civil society. The same is true where organization of immediate responses is concerned. This is where most of the focus is in present day practice, but very often in the form of charity for victims and not in any relation to the social processes involved!

(iv) disaster risk mainstreaming. This least known issue stems from the fact that we have realized that there is hardly any gap between disaster impact reduction and development and that they have to be integrated. Mainstreaming risk reduction means using development policy processes to reduce the hazardous as well as the vulnerability factors in the realities of disaster occurrences.

The paper in the Jakarta Post of 16 January 2006 by Jonathan Lassa, from which the above has largely been derived, argues that choices can and have to be made and actions can and have to be taken in hazard prone areas at various levels and in various directions. To appreciably reduce the damages and other impacts of such disasters as recently occurred on Java.


[See also “Beyond Climate Forecasting of Flood Disasters” (by Stigter, Das and Murthy), under the Market Place topic of 29/11/’04]

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