One of the world's most disaster-prone countries, Indonesia prepares schools for tsunamis

Feb 26, 2018

Photo: UNDP Indonesia
Photo: UNDP Indonesia
Photo: UNDP Indonesia
Photo: UNDP Indonesia

The Indonesian archipelago is constantly at risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and tsunamis. Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, there is at least one significant volcanic eruption and one major earthquake in the country every year. A large tsunami can occur once in every five years.

Nearly 3,900 schools across Indonesia are located in tsunami prone areas, according to the Indonesia Disaster Data and Information (DIBI). Aceh Province in Sumatra is among most vulnerable areas and has as many as 457 schools in high tsunami risk zones. Given its location on several tectonic plates, the “golden time” in Aceh is 15-30 minutes for schools to evacuate their students after a tsunami warning is issued.

Aceh-DrillFirst aid training during the tsunami drill. Photo: UNDP Indonesia

To address the high tsunami threat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked in nine schools in Aceh to ensure that the schools have emergency plans and students have practiced safe evacuation.

Over the past six months, the school tsunami drills in Banda Aceh mobilized more than 2,200 students and teachers, and prompted tsunami awareness events and evacuation simulations in nearby villages Glumpang, Pande and Gapong. The village drills were closely observed by youth and women organizations, and attracted strong media interest. Several schools and universities in Aceh sent their students to the drills to learn about carrying out an evacuation.

“People were aware of a tsunami threat, but didn't believe that one would happen any time soon. Refresher-trainings and awareness events are really helpful, especially for younger generations, so that they are prepared to respond to a possible tsunami threat,” said Andrys Erawan, technical officer of UNDP Indonesia’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Programme.

Erawan said that the evacuation simulations showed a lack of safe shelters in Aceh. “Students of one school had to run about one kilometer to the nearest two-story building that was not even high enough to save lives. Not to mention that students may be swept by the wave while running to the shelter. So, safe shelters are a must for saving lives.”

In addition to Aceh, the UNDP has conducted tsunami awareness education and safety drills in disaster-prone Bali island in Indonesia for more than 1000 students and teachers.

aceh-8Banda Aceh students tested out a new mobile app that helps schools to measure their tsunami preparedness capacity and students awareness. Photo: UNDP Indonesia

To help schools to measure their tsunami preparedness, UNDP Indonesia is developing an easy to use self-assessment tool for schools. Based on the historical disaster data of the area and questionnaires, it will also measure students' tsunami awareness before and after a drill. The tool was tested out in 16 schools in Banda Aceh and two schools in Mentawai, West Sumatra. In the form of a mobile app, it will be available for many countries around the world. 

“Understanding the disaster risk and assessing the preparedness capacity is the step A - the first step - every school or country has to take. Having a clear plan and ensuring that all participants know what to do are other cornerstones of an effective disaster management strategy. Together with Japanese companies – Fujitsu and Tohoku University - we in UNDP make sure that all schools and countries have appropriate data and good analytics to inform these plans and strategies,” said Sanny Jegillos, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Team Leader of UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. 

Supported by the Government of Japan, UNDP in Indonesia partners with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Banda Aceh City Parliament, the City Disaster Management Agency (BPBD), Ministry of National Education, National Secretariat of Safer School Programme, Banda Aceh Disaster Risk Reduction Forum and the Red Cross to raise tsunami awareness and conduct drills. 

Indonesia is one of 18 countries to participate in the regional project “Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia-Pacific Region” that contributes to the achievement of the Sendai Framework’s seven targets to reduce lives lost, numbers of people affected, and economic damage from natural and human-induced hazards. The project supports the UNDP’s goal to help vulnerable regions to adapt to climate change by integrating disaster risk measures into national strategies.

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