Earthquake proof typical house built by local handyman in Sekka. Credit: Jonathan Lhasa
More than 340 people are dead or missing in the aftermath of a relatively small but shallow 5.6-magnitude earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency reported that about 7,700 people were injured by falling structures and debris. While 73,000 people have been displaced, about 62,000 housing units and 368 schools have been damaged or destroyed.
Over the past fifteen years I have observed how, when small or moderate earthquakes become catastrophic, preliminary assertions are made and blame is regularly attributed to poor shelters and buildings.
Disaster management is often reduced to simply distributing emergency relief followed by incomplete recovery. Then the cycle begins again when another supposedly preventable disaster strikes.
What is missing is a master plan for earthquake mitigation that hardly exists in earthquake-prone Indonesia.
Presence of seismic hazard maps but without implementation map
Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency explained three main elements that led to the catastrophic damage of the Cianjur earthquake:
It showed typical characteristics of shallow earthquakes, local buildings do not meet seismic standards, and settlements are located on soft soils and hills.
The government already has a national seismic map that provides information on potential earthquakes. The government also provides information about practical solutions for small families during earthquakes.
However, it does not have a plan to force the seismic map. After 15 years of disaster management reform in Indonesia, the government still needs a clear operational map in implementing and enforcing mitigation policies.
The earthquake mitigation operational map should be reduced to the unit or house level – risk assessment and plans drawn up with individual name and address. This needs to be followed by regular monitoring.
Breaking the building’s chain of loopholes
I propose seven steps to ensure the continuity of implementation of earthquake-safe housing at the grassroots level.
First, the government must immediately produce a detailed institutional roadmap, reduced to the district and district level. Such a map should show how local governments routinely adopt and implement laws and standards for earthquake-resistant shelters.
Second, to create a public management system that constantly controls safety standards for housing and infrastructure. Current implementation of the minimum service standards for local governments should include ensuring safe shelters and buildings in disaster-prone areas.
Third, integrating the building permit process with the disaster mitigation agenda. Measures must act as the first filter to ensure public safety. In general, the regulation often manages only to allow punishment without any technical provisions regarding the intricacies of how to anticipate disaster.
Fourth, transform the bureaucracy responsible for issuing building permits. The licensing bureaucracy is often prone to corruption. As a result, homeowners often adopt a “build first, let later” approach because “money can arrange everything.” The official procedure I tested was that it took 2-3 years to get a permit to build a house.
I propose that the government eliminate the administrative costs of building permits for poor families in disaster-prone areas. Fees often force low-income groups to avoid building permit procedures.
Fifth, to empower the local builders in the villages to be agents of change. My research is in Sika, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, one of the earthquake-prone areas in Indonesia where more than half of the dwellings collapsed in 1992 – often many local builders tout earthquake mitigation measures.
Of the dozens of builders and employees I interviewed between 2008 and 2018 at Sekka, they most often advise homeowners to consider earthquake risk reduction. The staff explained that more often than not, poor families are unwilling to invest in “extra materials.” In fact, there is always an additional cost to strengthening buildings.
The reinforced wall photo below is an example of a product from local builders. Reinforcing brick walls with reinforced concrete can help protect them.
Sixth: Changing the behavior of the private sector in housing construction. Profit over quality often compromises safety.
Seventh, the government should develop and implement an ambitious retrofit program at all levels. This can strengthen existing buildings and still functioning homes to withstand the next earthquake or hurricane.
In the Cianjur earthquake, again, we saw that failure to ensure the safety of school buildings and homes resulted in the deaths of children.
Even in the presence of successful technical solutions, a safe systemic impact from earthquakes can only be achieved if there is a clear implementation plan.
The government needs to systematically reduce the hidden transaction costs of house construction. For example, attempts to extort local gangs must be eliminated.
The challenge is getting wider as there are more and more old buildings and homes in earthquake-prone areas. These shelters may still be strong today, but there is no guarantee 25 years from now when these shelters will be tested by severe weather events and earthquakes on a regular basis.
Introduction to the conversation
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Citation: Lessons from Cianjur: Earthquake-prone Indonesia has no earthquake mitigation plan (2022, December 8) Retrieved December 8, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-lessons-cianjur-earthquake-prone- indonesia-seismic.html
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