The pandemic in the Ring of Fire
The remote island of Nias accumulates the endemic disasters of Indonesia: earthquakes, tsunamis, lack of access to water and sanitation, malaria and dengue fever epidemics, and now Covid-19. A new project of the Foundation focuses on rural areas in one of the countries in the Pacific Ring of Fire most threatened by seismic disasters, climate change, diseases and the economic crisis. Indonesians are fighting on all fronts for survival.
The history of the island of Nias has been marked by another of Indonesia’s endemic disasters: seismic activity. The December 2004 tsunami generated waves of up to 10 meters that devastated the coast and claimed 122 lives. The 2005 Sumatra earthquake killed more than 800 people and left thousands homeless; in 2007 there were still tens of thousands of internally displaced people living in camps on the island.
The Indonesian archipelago is located in the so called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area with the highest concentration of seismic and volcanic activity on the planet (there are an estimated ). Everyone can remember the terrible earthquake and tsunami of 2004, with waves that reached 30 meters and killed 168,000 Indonesians and another 55,000 people in the coastal countries of the Indian Ocean (a disaster that inspired the film Lo imposible by the Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona).
In 2006, almost 6,000 people died in a violent earthquake that hit the island of Java. And in more recent history, between July and August 2018 a series of earthquakes that reached magnitude 7 on the Richter scale hit the northern coast of the island of Lombok, located in the province of the Lesser Sunda islands. The population experienced more than 1,000 terrifying aftershocks for 10 days. The disaster claimed more than 500 lives and injured 1,500 people, causing some 400,000 people to flee their homes. And on September 29th, in the Central Sulawesi province, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck Palu, Mamuju and Donggala. The earthquake and the ensuing tsunami killed more than 2,300 people. In the aftermath of these disasters, the Foundation worked with World Vision on two projects to provide aid in and in .
The threat of sea level
Climate change is looming over the archipelago with two significant threats: alteration of the rainfall regime and rising sea levels. The Indonesian Environment Forum revealed last January that two small uninhabited islands in southern Sumatra have disappeared as a result of sea level rise. One of these islands, Betet, is part of the Berbak-Sembilang National Park, designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2018; an area that is vital for biodiversity and ocean balance because of its mangroves and wide variety of flora and fauna.
But the sea level rise affects not only rural coastal areas, threatening life and tourism; the capital itself, Jakarta, with over 10 million inhabitants, is one of the world’s fastest sinking cities. Experts at the Bandung Institute of Technology estimate that, if no action is taken, parts of this large city could be completely submerged by 2050. North Jakarta has sunk 2.5 meters in 10 years and is still sinking at a rate of 25 cm a year in parts that lie on swampy land. If this continues, it is estimated that 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged by 2050.
In addition to the rise in sea level, 13 rivers, some of them highly polluted, converge in Jakarta. Faced with poor water quality and lack of supply in many neighborhoods, many citizens have had to pump water from increasingly deep aquifers, contributing to the process of urban land subsidence and instability.
The capital is fighting the subsidence with engineering projects led by Dutch and Korean experts; but a key aspect is to stop all extraction of groundwater and establish an external supply system. The problem highlights the dramatic lack of sanitation in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, where shantytowns are adjacent to open sewers that often overflow in the rainiest seasons.
Indonesians are fighting on all fronts for survival. Health security, fighting the climate crisis and the attainment of full access to water and sanitation are all issues that need to be addressed in conjunction with the need to reduce exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters. It shows us clearly that the new reality forces us to consider all fronts in unison. You can collaborate