Within a matter of days towards the 14th anniversary of the massive tsunami disaster of December 2004, tragedy has once more struck Aceh province, a stark reminder of the power of the natural forces which affect the surface of planet Earth. While the devastating 2004 event was triggered by a very large Richter 9.0 offshore earthquake close to where the Indian Ocean plate subducts the Eurasian plate and creeps northwards along Indonesia’s volcanic Ring of Fire, the more modest but still strong Pidie event of Richter 6.5 magnitude was a land movement at relatively shallow depth. The earthquake’s affect on old structures not designed for earthquakes was nevertheless devastating, and cost the lives of over 100 people; our heartfelt sympathies must go out to their families and loved ones.
In the 2004 event, Pidie was effectively untouched so that little focus was directed in its direction, except in the later stages of the projects delivered for the reconstruction of Aceh province as a whole. However, in the “Build Back Better” platform for the reconstruction of the tsunami hit areas, with the Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar areas being particularly devastated, buildings away from the main damage did not feature in the listings for upgrading or replacement. Hence, today, not just in Pidie but also in all areas across the archipelago that can be considered prone to earthquakes, there are still many older structures that are vulnerable, as shown tragically in the Jogjakarta event of 2006.
It is good to see the government reacting quickly with emergency response to the Pidie disaster, along with some Japanese emergency assistance, but the thought springs to mind that perhaps there should be an inventory made at district level of older civic and commercial buildings in the many earthquake prone areas of the archipelago, and budget set aside to systematically strengthen these to withstand a likely future event. If strengthening is not a viable option then the building should either be taken down and replaced, or marked so that it is clear that the structure would be vulnerable to collapse in the event of a strong earthquake.
Indonesia has arguably more than its fair share of natural disasters because of its location along one of the most tectonically and volcanically active areas of the planet, and from its geology, which is open to annual landslides. It has been well featured in books on disaster mitigation, prevention and response, such as provided by the ADB. Every district should have a capability to respond quickly to events, even if outside assistance is necessary.