As Indonesia reels, it also foreshadows the future

26th Oct 2018
As Indonesia reels, it also foreshadows the future

Destroyed buildings in two villages namely Petobo and Balaroa in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia (Photo: Selman Tür/Anadolu Agency)

Within fifteen minutes of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, three tsunami waves struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on September 28. The death toll now exceeds 2,000 people. More than 70,000 residents have been displaced and the search for the dead came to an end on October 11, though up to 5,000 may still be missing.

Indonesian authorities were initially concerned with injuries, but now their focus has turned to the spread of disease, as so many rotting corpses lie under the seemingly endless rubble. The thousands that are still missing will be declared dead when the search ends.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world – schools, mosques, and hotels full of people were destroyed within minutes. Now, the people fear being forgotten.

Disasters all around the world seem to happen with such frequency these days that it’s hard for those people who have the means to help, to manage their empathy and to know in which catastrophe their aid would go the furthest.

Some Palu residents have already returned to work – motorcycle repairmen, food stall owners, nurses – to do what they can for their community, and to return to some semblance of normalcy. Still, thousands are traumatized and homeless, having left their homes with only the clothes on their backs; now unsure of whether their children will be able to return to school. This is the reality for disaster survivors, and the number of people suffering from these conditions is growing each day.

Indonesian authorities are now strictly monitoring foreign aid workers. On October 9, they ordered foreign NGOs not working with local partners to leave disaster zones. According to the New York Times, “Indonesian government are wary of being too open to outside help because they could face criticism from political opponents and there is particular resistance to the presence of foreign military personnel, as it could be seen as an infringement of sovereignty.”

The following day, after multiple reports about aid workers being hampered, the Government clarified that their intentions were to adequately manage resources. An election in Indonesia is coming up, and disaster response will be a major factor in who gets into, or retains, power. Similar to India’s response to the Kerala floods, Indonesia fears the foreign saviour coming in to help its people, exposing domestic inadequacy.

Yet, recovering from disasters of such scale would be hard for any individual government or organization to accomplish on its own, and help that comes without conditions should be welcomed for the sake of the citizenry.

Though Indonesians are still reeling from the disaster, some families having lost multiple members – some of whose bodies were never recovered – the UN warns of more deadly disasters to come. Though few believe that earthquakes are correlated to climate change, it’s hard for many to keep up with all the devastation, from typhoons to wildfires to tsunamis.

The United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released a final, dire report this month about the need to reduce carbon emissions rapidly, complete with a specific timeframe to avoid disaster. The scientists express that there needs to be immediate changes at all levels of society, and they urge policymakers to use every tool possible to keep warming below 1.5C below pre-industrial levels.

They explain that the difference between 1.5C and 2C is extreme in terms of the worldwide implications, i.e. catastrophe. The BBC reports that “This new study says that going past 1.5C is dicing with the planet’s livability. And the 1.5C temperature “guard rail” could be exceeded in just 12 years, in 2030.”

The four main systems that will need to be revamped in order to stay below the 1.5C threshold are energy, land use, cities, and industries. These are very wide-ranging and would require trillions of dollars of investment. The consequences of inaction are dire, but political will is lacking. US President, Donald Trump, did not even mention the report during his trip to Florida, a state extremely vulnerable to climate change, just ahead of another detrimental hurricane.

Indonesia does not deserve to be forgotten in their time of need, but as countries turn more to tribalism, and fending for themselves, it is unnerving to think of what will become of disaster survivors without foreign aid, and what will become of societies when they have no means or desire to offer it.

Climate change is testing the human will and may expose our barbarism, which begins when we cease to offer a hand, or a glass of water, to our fellow human being.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall
English Language Teacher & Environmental Columnist

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