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Time for action after latest tsunami tragedy

  • With more than 400 people dead in yet another natural disaster to hit Indonesia, there is an obvious need to fund research and put in place a more advanced network against the killer waves
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 6:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 7:21pm

Another devastating natural disaster has hit Indonesia and the same question is being asked: how could the nation have been better prepared? More than 400 people were killed and scores are still missing after waves apparently triggered by an undersea landslide linked to an eruption of the Anak Krakatoa volcano swept ashore on both sides of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Authorities have again made promises to improve warning systems, but repeated tragedies prove pledges are rarely kept. As unpredictable as nature may be, Indonesians will be safest and investors assured only when there is adequate funding and government resolve.

Questions were supposed to have been answered in the wake of the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 228,000 people in 14 countries, most victims being Indonesian. A warning network of buoys was put in place with foreign help. But vandalism, a lack of funds and technical shortcomings meant the system has not been operational in Indonesian waters since 2012. No alert was therefore given of Saturday night’s three-metre waves, people living on the central Sulawesi coast were not prepared for a tsunami in September that claimed more than 2,000 lives, and those on the tourist island of Lombok, hit by earthquakes in July and August that took the lives of more than 550, could only guess whether its shores would be lashed.

Before this tsunami, Krakatoa’s eruption in 1883 rocked the world

Anak Krakatoa has been active since June and with further eruptions likely, the threat to those nearby remains. Authorities contend that the proximity of the volcano to affected areas means that alert systems, even if operational, would have been of little value given the speed of tsunami waves. There is no way to accurately forecast quakes and buoys cannot detect volcanic eruptions, making predictions even more difficult. There is an obvious need to fund research and put in place a more advanced network.

Anniversaries are a time for reflection; the latest tsunami coming so close to the commemoration of the Indian Ocean catastrophe makes it doubly so. With general elections in four months and President Joko Widodo seeking another term, there is added impetus for authorities to turn promises into action.