Being located on the Pacific Ring of Fire (an area with a high degree of tectonic activity), Indonesia has to cope with the constant risk of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. On several occasions during the last 15 years, Indonesia has made global headlines due to devastating natural disasters that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human and animal lives, plus having a destructive effect on the land area (including infrastructure, and thus resulting in economic costs).
Meanwhile, extreme wet or dry seasons (El Nino or La Nina weather phenomenons) can ruin food crop harvests, trigger inflation and put severe financial pressure on the poorer segments of the Indonesian population. Lastly, man-made natural disasters (such as forest fires caused by the traditional slash-and-burn culture, particularly on the islands Sumatra and Kalimantan) have far-reaching environmental consequences.
One important remark is that the weak infrastructure development in Indonesia - which is the result of mismanagement, the lack of skills or corruption - in fact aggravates the devastating impact of a natural disaster. Meanwhile, in the urban centers of Indonesia, particularly the bigger cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan and Yogyakarta, there is an extremely high population density. Weak infrastructure and the high population density imply that natural disasters in Indonesia may cause more casualties than they should.
Volcanic Eruptions in Indonesia
Indonesia is the country that contains the most active volcanoes of all countries in the world. The Eurasian Plate, Pacific Plate and Indo-Australian Plate are three active tectonic plates that cause the subduction zones that form these volcanoes. Indonesia is estimated to have 129 volcanoes, all carefully observed by the Centre of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (Pusat Vulkanologi dan Mitigasi Bencana Geologi), because a number of Indonesian volcanoes show continuous activity.
There is at least one significant volcano eruption in Indonesia every year. However, usually it does not cause great damage to the environment or cause casualties as most of the active volcanoes are located in isolated regions.
Some notable volcanic eruptions in Indonesia's modern history are listed below. This list only contains major eruptions that led to at least 29 fatalities.
|Volcano||Location||Date of Eruption||Casualties|
|Merapi||Central Java||03 November 2010||138|
|Kelut||East Java||10 February 1990||35|
|Galunggung||West Java||05 April 1982||68|
|Merapi||Central Java||06 October 1972||29|
|Kelut||East Java||26 April 1966||212|
|Agung||Bali||17 March 1963||1,148|
|Merapi||Central Java||25 November 1930||1,369|
|Kelut||East Java||19 May 1919||5,110|
|Awu||North Sulawesi||07 June 1892||1,532|
|Krakatau||Sunda Strait||26 August 1883||36,600|
|Galunggung||West Java||08 October 1822||4,011|
|Tambora||Sumbawa||10 April 1815||71,000+|
Besides taking human lives, a volcanic eruption can cause considerable damage to local economies by hurting small and medium enterprises that are involved in tourism, culinary, commercial accommodation, agriculture, plantation, and livestock. A positive development is that volcano eruptions take less human lives today due to better volcano observation methods in combination with better organized emergency evacuations.
Earthquakes in Indonesia
Earthquakes are probably the biggest threat in terms of natural disasters in Indonesia as they come suddenly and can strike in populous areas, such as the bigger cities. Earthquakes with a magnitude of around five or six on the scale of Richter occur almost on a daily basis in Indonesia but usually cause no or little damage. When the magnitude becomes over seven on the scale of Richter, an earthquake can potentially do a lot of damage. Yearly, two or three earthquakes with a magnitude of seven or higher occur in Indonesia and cause casualties and damage the infrastructure or environment. Below is a selected list with recent earthquakes that caused severe damage and at least 20 fatalities:
|Sumatra||07 December 2016||6.5||104|
|Sumatra||02 July 2013||6.1||42|
|Sumatra||25 October 2010||7.7||435|
|Sumatra||30 September 2009||7.6||1,117|
|Java||02 September 2009||7.0||81|
|Sumatra||12 September 2007||8.5||23|
|Sumatra||06 March 2007||6.4||68|
|Java||17 July 2006||7.7||668|
|Java||26 May 2006||6.4||5,780|
|Sumatra||28 March 2005||8.6||1,346|
|Sumatra||26 December 2004||9.2||283,106|
The high number of Indonesian casualties is partly inflicted by the bad state of some housing facilities and infrastructure. This is why a moderate earthquake can in fact result in many casualties, the collapse of many buildings and the displacement of many people. A World Bank publication (in October 2010) expressed its concern about the devastating effects an 8.5 magnitude earthquake can have if it would happen in a mega-city such as Jakarta.
Tsunamis in Indonesia
A submarine earthquake or volcanic eruption in the ocean can cause a tsunami water wave which can have devastating effects on the people and objects near the sea. In 2004 a large part of the world was rocked by the Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami, killing over 167,000 people in Indonesia (mainly Aceh) alone. Although a massive tsunami such as the 2004 tsunami is rare, the Sumatra region is often startled by offshore earthquakes that can potentially trigger a tsunami.
With the 2004 tsunami still fresh in mind, the level of fear is high. Often Indonesians who live in villages or cities close to the coast, flee to the hills (located more inland) after an earthquake has taken place. On average, once every five years a large tsunami happens in Indonesia, usually on the islands of Sumatra and Java. In general, damage to the infrastructure exceeds the loss of lives. There are warning systems installed on many coastal areas but there have been reports that not all of these systems are functioning properly.
Floods in Indonesia
Indonesia's rainy season (which runs from December to March) usually brings plenty of rainfall. In combination with deforestation or waterways clogged with debris, it can cause rivers to overflow and this results in floods. Floods and landslides occur in most parts of Indonesia and can cause hundreds of casualties, destroy houses and other infrastructure, and ruin local businesses. Even in a mega-city as Jakarta, floods occur regularly due to weak water management in combination with heavy monsoon rains. In January 2013, a large part of Jakarta was flooded, affecting more than 100.000 households and resulting in more than 20 fatalities.
In the rainy season floods usually disturb the distribution channels and therefore Indonesia tends to experience some inflationary pressures during the months January and February when the monsoon rains tend to peak. Wet conditions can be aggravated by the La Nina weather phenomenon. La Nina (basically the opposite of El Nino), a phenomenon that occurs once every five years on average, brings cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It therefore causes wetter-than-usual weather in Southeast Asia, usually in the months November to February.
Man-Made Forest Fires in Indonesia
Generally Indonesians have a low awareness of environmental sustainable practices. This is reflected by farmers' and companies' use of slash-and-burn practices (a strategy to clear land for plantations, usually for the expansion of crude palm oil or pulp and paper plantations), primarily on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The slash-and-burn strategy is the cheapest option. Although this practice is actually not allowed by Indonesian law, weak law enforcement and corruption make it possible. However, the practice entails serious and far-reaching risks.
For example, forest fires in the months June-October 2015 ran out of hand completely. Based on a World Bank report - released in December 2015 - some 100,000 man-made forest fires destroyed about 2.6 million hectares of land between June and October 2015 and caused toxic haze to spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, giving rise to diplomatic tensions. This disaster is estimated to have cost Indonesia IDR 221 trillion (approx. USD $16 billion or 1.9 percent of the country's gross domestic product) and it released some 11.3 million tons of carbon each day (a figure that exceeds the 8.9 million tons of daily carbon emissions in the European Union), thus being one of the worst ever natural disasters in human history.
The forest fires in 2015 ran out of hand partly because of unusual dry weather. The El Nino weather phenomenon, the strongest one since 1997, brought severe dry weather to Southeast Asia and therefore firefighters could not count on support from rain. El Nino, which occurs once every five years on average, causes climatic changes across the Pacific Ocean leading to droughts in Southeast Asia and therefore also has a major impact on harvests of agricultural commodities.
Last update: 20 December 2016