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Q&A: Frank Thomalla on lessons from disaster risk reduction in Indonesia

A new book provides an overview of progress and challenges in the Southeast Asian country.

Michael Boyland / Published on 5 April 2017

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Agus Nugroho

Programme Manager

SEI Asia

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Frank Thomalla

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI Asia

Tsunami 2004 aftermath. Aceh, Indonesia, 2005.
Tsunami 2004 aftermath. Aceh, Indonesia, 2005. Photo credit: AusAID via Flickr

A country often associated with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 170,000 people in the province of Aceh alone, Indonesia has always been heavily affected by disasters. At the same time, it is one of the countries at the forefront of reducing disaster and climate-related risks in Asia.

SEI’s Frank Thomalla is one of the editors of a new book Disaster Risk Reduction in Indonesia: Progress, Challenges and Issues that presents research on a wide range of approaches, actors and initiatives working to reduce the risk of disasters across one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. It is the latest contribution to the Springer Series on Disaster Risk Reduction and the first such collection of research, policy and practice for disaster risk reduction in Indonesia.

The book goes far beyond disaster policy, providing perspectives on the roles of a wide range of different actors such as private businesses, the media, people with disabilities, customary institutions, religious leaders and faith-based organizations and womens’ organizations in risk reduction efforts across sectors such as infrastructure, spatial planning, education, health and the environment.

Below, Frank Thomalla describes the context and contributions of this new book.

Q: What is the importance of this book in the context of today’s efforts on disaster risk reduction?

FT: This book comes in the wake of adoption of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, which is an important policy document intended to shape DRR until 2030, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. The book is important because it documents experiences and lessons from doing DRR, from conception to planning to implementation, and from the perspectives of a wide range of actors. It represents the collective knowledge of a large variety of stakeholders working at different levels of governance and scales, including researchers and academics, government and non-government organizations, civil society and the private sector.

Q: What lessons can other countries learn from Indonesia on DRR?

FT: Following the tsunami in 2004, Indonesia invested significantly in restructuring its institutions, laws and policies with the aim of addressing the increasing disaster and climate-related risks facing the country. The roles and responsibilities of the different line ministries were changed in order to better link DRR with climate change adaptation and socio-economic development processes. These changes in the way disaster risk is governed have led to a more holistic approach to reducing risk.

Q: What are the key messages from the chapter on the role of the Panglima Laot customary institution in Aceh in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami recovery that you contributed with SEI colleagues Michael Boyland and Agus Nugroho?

FT: This chapter builds on research conducted by SEI as part of the APN-funded project An analysis of longer-term recovery following major disasters in the Asia Pacific region: Lessons for resilient development. We studied aspects of the tsunami recovery in coastal communities of Aceh following the formal conclusion of the disaster recovery phase from the perspective of the Panglima Laot in order to contribute to the understanding of community-based approaches during major disaster recoveries.

The chapter offers important lessons for actors engaged in localized post-disaster operations that aim to build resilience on leadership, community engagement and people-centred recovery approaches. Our research shows that the Panglima Laot was instrumental in the recovery of Aceh’s coastal fishing communities because people had trust in the institution, its role as a mediator between communities and government and NGO actors, and its leadership in implementing, monitoring and evaluating livelihood recovery programmes that addressed community needs.

Q: How does this research connect with SEI’s strategy for reducing disaster risk?

FT: Being involved in the production of the book was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the great work conducted by the mostly early career researchers from Indonesia, to expand our network in the country, and to raise the profile of SEI’s work in DRR. UNU-EHS in Germany, LIPI in Indonesia and many other organizations involved in the book project are key strategic partners in taking our work forward across Asia, and we will continue to build our relationships with them by developing collaborative projects.

One example is the planned German-Indonesian Research School, to which SEI could contribute learning materials and lectures based on the approaches developed by the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk (TDDR). The topics presented in the book have strong synergies with the strategic research priorities of the SEI Asia Cluster on Reducing Disaster Risk: “Building urban resilience”, “The role of culture and behaviour in DRR”, “Empowering vulnerable groups”, and “Post-disaster recovery and resilience building”. The insights generated by the research undertaken for the book demonstrates how much progress has been made in Indonesia, but also how much remains to be done in designing and implementing inclusive DRR measures that address the vulnerability to disasters of all people.

SEI Asia’s Frank Thomalla was a co-editor of Disaster Risk Reduction in Indonesia: Progress, Challenges and Issues, and Michael Boyland, Agus Nugroho and Frank Thomalla authored a chapter entitled: The role of the Panglima Laot customary institution in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Aceh.

More information

VIDEO: Launch of Disaster Risk Reduction in Indonesia: Progress, Challenges, and Issues »

BLOG: “12 years after the tsunami: the progress of disaster risk reduction in Indonesia” by Dr Riyanti Djalante »

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