…. maybe they know the future. As a human being, I can only say that the future is yet to be made. Let us go forth and make it, but let us make it as beautifully as we can. The degree of elegance is determined by our will and the perfection of our own personalities. Therefore, do not sigh over misfortune or adversity. Whether you are happy or sad is entirely up to you.
Deng Ming-Dao – 365 Tao – Daily Meditations
Indonesia is undergoing a series of ‘natural disasters’. Some say that we should all bow down before gods because they are angry. But if the word ‘disasters’ refers to the deaths and destruction, then they aren’t natural; they’re manmade.
Most of the 400+ deaths from the tsunami on the Mentawai islands were of coastal dwellers, poor immigrants mainly from the mainland of West Sumatra. The Mentawai indigenous forest dwellers have developed their ‘lifestyle’ over 4,000 years living inland in the uphill forests where they have achieved a level of harmony with their environment.
Over 120 people have died in the past week on the slopes of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Gunung Merapi (which translates as ‘Fire Mountain’). These deaths too were preventable. They are too in the event that the other 20 volcanoes which have been upgraded to ‘alert’ status blow their tops.
The deceased, and the upwards of 125,000 refugees sheltering from the hot clouds of volcanic ash gushing from Merapi, have limited choices as to where to live. These folk are poor, otherwise landless, and generally without electricity and/or telecommunications.
Opting to live in such unstable environments is perhaps Malthusian, in that Malthus believed that wars and other catastrophes were the result of natural outcomes of population growth. Mind you, he also believed that such natural outcomes were God’s way of preventing man from being lazy.
The poor, of course, cannot afford to be lazy if they are to survive independent of welfare handouts. It’s only the rich who can afford to be lazy, and they are rarely the victims of God’s wrath as they can afford to live out of harm’s way in gated communities.
Or, as the West Sumatra governor and assorted groups of legislators have done, to absent themselves from potential harm by going on study jaunts abroad. And it is the rich who enact such legislation as the 2009 Population and Family Law – which restricts family planning and contraception services to legally married couples – who are culpable for the victims of Mother Nature’s (God’s) wrath. More mouths to feed only adds to the grinding poverty.
Still, all praise to SBY who interrupted his high level parley in Hanoi with assorted regional leaders to visit Mentawai. Upon his return to Indonesia, he visited the shelters of the Merapi evacuees, although his bodyguards showed little sensitivity towards the volunteers or victims. On that visit SBY only suggested yet another bandaid solution: relocate the residents.
Following the recent tsunami in the Mentawai Islands, the Mount Merapi eruption and the flash floods in Wasior, West Papua, earlier this month, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed regional administrations to relocate people living in disaster-prone areas.
However, he was contradicted by his Social Affairs Minister Salim Segaf Al Jufri who said that unlike those living in Wasior and Mentawai, the homes of many Merapi residents are still in a decent condition.
This merely heightened the perception that the Indonesian government runs around like headless chickens. It’s a tragedy in real terms that a day later at least another 78 folk have been killed by pyroclastic flows that roared down the southern slopes at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour). And their homes were destroyed.
SBY is now, albeit somewhat belatedly, demonstrating that by moving to the area to monitor the situation he can lead from the front, as a former army general can be expected to.
He has given several instructions, including that all emergency activities would be under the sole command of National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif, whose status has been lifted to a ministerial level.
“Although the Yogyakarta and Central Java administrations still function, seeing the scale of the disaster it is better than BNPB head takes the command with assistance from Yogyakarta and Central Java governors, Diponegoro Military Command chief, and Central Java and Yogyakarta police chiefs.”
He added that he had instructed Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono to organize humanitarian relief for Merapi refugees (currently c. 150,000), and the TNI (armed forces) to dispatch a brigade to help build temporary hospitals and emergency kitchens, as well as evacuate people.
The president also announced the government would allocate [funds] to buy cattle belonging to the locals at agreeable prices, saying it was expected to lure them not to return to their homes to take care of the animals after evacuation order was issued. He assigned Agung and the Yogyakarta and Central Java governors to deal with the matter.
Concluding his press conference, Yudhoyono asked journalists and the nation to pray for the safety of people around the volcano and an end of the calamity.
Prayers may give folk a sense of calm, but Mother Nature won’t be listening. She has her own timeless agenda.
I hesitate to close with this cartoon, whose source I cannot track down, but as it illustrates that there are some things which Mankind can control, then I feel it has a value.
For many years, the poor have cooked with stoves which used subsidised kerosene. A couple of years ago a crash programme was initiated whereby households were given stoves and a canister of LPG. There was little oversight of their manufacture nor the proper handling of these canisters and many people have been killed by gas canister explosions.