Saturday, February 23, 2019 | ePaper

Our hearts go out to the tragic victims of earthquake in Indonesia

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Foreign aid workers who rallied to the island of Sulawesi after the devastating earthquake and tsunami more than a week ago have been asked to leave the country by the Indonesian government. Foreign agencies flew in after a devastating earthquake on 28 September, which triggered a tsunami. The official death toll from the disaster is 1,944, but about 5000 people remain missing.

Indonesia's national disaster management authority (BNBP) issued regulations for international NGOs, including that: "Foreign NGOs who have deployed foreign personnel are advised to retrieve their personnel immediately."The announcement has prompted concerns that the ability of NGOs to deliver aid will be hampered. Charity World Vision, called the announcement by the government "very odd" and said it meant that overworked and traumatised Indonesia staff and volunteers were not able to be supported and relieved by fresh foreign staff.

Indonesian authorities were criticised for how long it took them to get search and rescue equipment and aid to Palu and other areas affected by the natural disaster. In the aftermath of the disaster, the city of Palu went days without power and clean water, leading to reports of looting, long queues for fuel and desperate scenes at the city's airport. Countries including Australia, New Zealand and the UK pledged aid. The regulations issued
by the Indonesian government are directed toward international NGOs. Large organisations such as World Vision, which are registered as local NGOs in Indonesia, are allowed to remain.

The Indonesian government has proven incapable of giving out early warning signs for earthquakes and tsunamis -- a deadly situation for a country which is essentially based around the Pacific Ring of Fire -- a stretch of area around 40,000 km long where earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions frequently occur.
Indonesia's tsunami early warning system is currently made up of a network of 170  seismic broadband stations, 238 accelerometer stations and 137 tidal gauges . But according to BMKG, Indonesia's meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning just after the initial quake, warning of potential waves of 0.5 to three metres. But it lifted the warning just over 30 minutes later.

The current   head of earthquake and tsunami centre described the current system in place is "very limited". Apparently they are severely lacking the tools which they need to do their jobs properly. In fact, of the 170 earthquake sensors which they possess, they have only a maintenance budget for 70 sensors. Due to this reason they picked up the tsunami -- because a warning was sent out - but what it failed to do was accurately gauge the scale of the tsunami.

But there's a bigger problem - though the alert was sent out, and according to the communications ministry, repeated tsunami warnings were sent to residents via text message - they might not have been received. A spokesman for the disaster agency said the quake had brought down the area's power and communications lines and that there were no sirens along the coast - which might have rendered the alerts essentially useless.
So not only was the warning of a brief duration, no infrastructure existed which could reach the warning to those affected. Negligence in constructing and maintaining quality infrastructure, including redundant early warning systems was the reason for so many deaths. The government has proved itself incapable of handling such disasters -- the least it could do is to allow foreign NGO's to provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who were the victims of the governments negligence.

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