What to plan for when rebuilding after a tsunami

  • 2019•10•04     Bonn

    © UNU-EHS

    Siswani Sari is a former PhD researcher and expert on tsunami recovery, who has successfully defended her dissertation recently. Her thesis is on “Governmental and Non-governmental Approaches to Maintain Medium and Long-term Disaster Resilience after a Mega-Disaster – A Case Study: Aceh Province, Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami”.

    On 26 December 2004, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other neighboring countries were hit with a devastating tsunami. This tsunami killed an estimated 227,898 people in 14 countries, making this one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. In Indonesia’s case, the government, NGOs and civil societies spent years rebuilding after this event, with the initial recovery period finishing in 2009. Sari, for her dissertation, studied this process, including the planning, implementation, and future outlook. In the case of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Sari found that while the Indonesian government has had success on planning regulations for carrying out the process of building back and the foundation has been laid with plans, rules and regulations, the actual implementation process is still a work in progress.

    After a large-scale disaster event, a government makes plans to recover and rebuild, with medium (five years) and long (20 years) term plans, with assessment on the progress being carried out every five years. During the initial recovery period, the government, cooperating with NGOs and local communities, build back up the economy, livelihoods, infrastructure, etc. And, more importantly, disaster risk reduction, focusing especially on infrastructure resilience, is part of this recovery process. The more resilient the city or community is, the easier it is to rebuild, with less damage to critical infrastructure or livelihoods. “The ultimate goal is to learn from disasters and minimize impact, to not repeat the same mistakes,” says Sari.

    When recovering and rebuilding from a devastating disaster, such as a tsunami, the government, with cooperation from nongovernmental organizations, must make the effort to strengthen the resilience of what is being rebuilt. For tsunamis, resilience measures include early warning systems and evacuation shelters. The work doesn’t end with just recovery and rebuilding; governments must put an effort to maintaining what has been rebuilt as well. To maintain this is what makes cities and communities more resilient, it reduces the vulnerabilities.

    There are challenges for governments and nongovernmental organizations: stakeholders should all have a common understanding on what resilience means, the components of disaster risk reduction and resilience. Because there are so many local actors, all with different perspectives and interests, Sari emphasized the importance of communication among all parties, starting from the early stages and continuing throughout the rebuilding process, in order to ensure that multi-stakeholder collaboration is carried out and necessary measures implemented.

    Sari, who had been studying at the University of Bonn and conducting her research with the VARMAP team at UNU-EHS, will now go back to Indonesia, to the Development and Planning Agency, where she used to work before her studies and which funded her studies. “There are so many things we can learn from disasters of the past, and with my studies there is much I can contribute to this field.” She hopes to continue her work at the agency, focusing on disaster risk management and governance. Indonesia is one of the countries around the “Ring of Fire”, prone to disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, so her work will contribute to an important sector for Indonesia.