Yearender - Indonesia records highest number of natural disasters in 2016

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia was battered by 2,342 natural disasters in 2016, the highest in the past 14 years, making it one of the most violent years in recent memory.

According to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the number of natural disasters increased by 35 percent during 2016 from 1,732 in the previous year, with flooding, landslides and whirlwinds still dominating.

As many as 522 people were killed, and some three million others were affected or displaced in the disasters, which also damaged at least 70 thousand houses. The nation lost tens of trillions of rupiahs due to the catastrophes.

Ninety-two percent of the natural disasters that hit Indonesia during the year were hydro-meteorological in nature -- floods, landslides, and whirlwinds.

The country was stricken by 766 floods (up 52 percent from 2015), 612 landslides (up 19 percent), and 669 whirlwinds (up 15 percent).

Flooding claimed 147 lives and affected 2.72 million people. Landslides killed 188 people, an increase from 135 in 2015.

"Natural disasters have caused a lot of suffering, mostly among the poor," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman of BNPB said in a statement issued on Dec 29, 2016.

"Surveys in several regions show that the poor people have suffered more because of the natural disasters. Imagine, those living along Bengawan Solo River have been hit by floods five times a year, and in Sampang (Madura) 15 times a year, on average," he said.

He called on the media to help promote greater awareness of disasters among the public.
The knowledge about natural disasters has indeed improved significantly, but it has not been applied in daily life, he said.

As an example, he cited the fact that although Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because the country lies between the Ring of Fire and the Alpide Belt, very rarely do people build earthquake-prone houses.

The Ring of Fire is a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur annually. With its 40 thousand km horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes, including more than 75 percent of the worlds active and dormant volcanoes.

Indonesia has experienced some the worlds deadliest natural disasters, such as the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa Volcano, and a magnitude-9.3 earthquake off the waters off Aceh that triggered a massive tsunami on Dec 26, 2004.

The Indian Ocean earthquake and its resulting tsunami killed an estimated 225,000 to 230,210 people, mostly in Aceh Province and Nias Island (North Sumatra Province), as well as in several other countries in Southeast and South Asia.

In the latest major earthquake, measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale, which hit Aceh Province on December 7, 2016, the fatalities numbered 103, and some 8,000 others were injured.

In fact, a total of 5,578 earthquakes were recorded during 2016, or an average of 460 tremors every month; 12 of them were destructive.

As for volcanoes, out of 127 active volcanoes, 16 volcanoes indicate above-normal activity, including Mount Sinabung, located in North Sumatra, which has been erupting since the past several years.

Currently, 9,319 residents of the nine villages located surrounding Mt Sinabung are still in refugee camps while 4,919 others from four villages are also bracing for evacuation.

However, there was good news in the fight against forest fires. Indonesia remained haze-free in 2016, after two decades of experiencing annual forest fires, which had triggered haze, Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has confirmed.

"For the first time, in 2016, we did not experience major forest fires thanks to the joint hard work of many regions. The number of hotspots decreased by 80 to 92 percent, according to the NOAA and Terra satellite methods," the minister said on Dec 10, 2016.

The number of hotspots recorded from January 1 to December 9, 2016 was 3,844, a significant drop from 21,847 during the same period in the previous year.

Indonesia will likely experience more intense disaster events by January 2017 due to a strong La Nina phenomenon, known for causing torrential downpours and widespread flooding across the state, the BNPB has predicted.

The agency has warned the people to be vigilant against hydro-meteorological disasters during January-April and November-December 2017.

"From June to October, drought that could induce forest and plantation fires might happen. And there might be earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, too," Sutopo said, while releasing the agencys predictions of disasters during 2017.

Indonesia recorded 1,967 natural disasters in 2014, 1,674 in 2013, and 1,811 in 2012.(*)