Indonesia – A Year of Natural and Man-made Disasters

Updated On: Dec 28, 2007

Indonesia once again faces many natural and manmade challenges even as it commemorates the third year anniversary of the tsunami disaster.

Floods and landslides triggered by monsoon rains left more than 130 people dead and some 50 missing on the main Indonesian island of Java. Just in East Java alone, about 28,000 people were displaced by the floods while figures from Central Java were still not revealed.  While firebrand Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir (head of Jemaah Islamiyah) blamed “immoral acts” and said that people had probably the disaster on themselves, environmental activists warned that illegal logging and deforestation were to blame for the ever-more disastrous consequences of monsoon rain and floods.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was quick to relay his sympathies to the victims of the flood and landslides.  “The president sends his deepest condolences and has ordered the home affairs minister to coordinate with local officials and monitor the emergency response," his spokesman, Andi Mallarangeng, told Metro TV. Yudhoyono had earlier attended a tree planting ceremony in Banten province to promote landslide and flood prevention efforts on the sidelines of a tsunami preparedness drill, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

The national transportation sector in Indonesia is not having it any better. It was an ominous year. The first day of 2007 was marked by a jetliner going missing before it was confirmed by the government that all 100 passengers onboard had died after crashing into the Majene Sea off West Sulawesi. Another deadly accident took place on March 7 when a Boeing 737-400 operated by flag carrier GarudaIndonesia failed to make a proper landing in Yogyakarta. The pilot ignored 15 alerts and the pleas of his co-pilot that he was coming in too fast.

Transportation minister Hatta Radjasa was replaced by Jusman Syafii Djamal, former president director of the ailing state aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI). But, Hatta, with the help of his party, did not fade away from public office and instead moved up the political ladder to become State Secretary.

After hastily conducting a safety audit, the ministry announced on 22 March 2007 that not one of Indonesia's 54 registered airlines was fully compliant with safety regulations. Not even Garuda made it into the top safety category, falling instead into category II, signifying that it was partly compliant with standards. Thirteen other passenger airlines were placed in category II and seven rated as category III, or non-compliant with safety regulations. Of the 34 commuter, charter and cargo airlines, 20 made it into category II while the rest fell into category III.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also called for improvements, establishing an ad hoc team of experts in January called the National Team for the Evaluation of Transportation Safety and Security (EKKT) led by former Air Force chief of staff Air Marshal (ret) Chappy Hakim who found that many safety procedures had been neglected. "There is no agreed-on perception of safety standards among users," EKKT spokesman Oetarjo Diran said.

Indonesia’s failed aviation industry prompted the European Union to impose a blanket ban on Indonesian airlines, prohibiting them from entering the airspace of the 27-country bloc. In installing the ban, the EU appeared to be seeking reassurance that there was no collusion between operators and regulators, especially in issuing airworthiness certificates. Before the smoke cleared, another blow to the Indonesian air transport sector came later this year, when fire ravaged the domestic arrival terminal of the Polonia International Airport in MedanNorth Sumatra on Dec. 1 2007. It was the second fire in two years.

As a form of retaliation against the EU ban on flights by Indonesian carriers, Indonesia's transport minister has urged Indonesian airlines not to purchase European aircraft.  "We do not need to buy aircraft from Europe as long as the flying ban stays unrevoked," Jusman Syafii Djamal was quoted as saying by news website Detikcom. "If aircraft are purchased and registered as Indonesian (in Europe), we are worried the planes won't be able to fly to Indonesia because Indonesian airlines' aircraft are banned from flying over Europe," the minister said. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also postponed a planned visit to Europe early in 2008, with a spokesman citing the ban as the cause. It is unknown how the public or the international community will evaluate such reactions to international scrutiny ofIndonesia’s aviation record.

While air transportation became problematic, Indonesia's water transportation sector also languished. The Levina ferry caught fire near Jakarta's Tanjung Priok seaport. The Feb. 22 disaster also claimed more than 300 lives and the Levina's death toll rose three days later when the burned-out hulk sank suddenly, killing two TV cameramen and two investigators researching the blaze. The Levina crew was found to have neglected safety procedures during the voyage.

From air to water to rail, a Jan. 15 2007 accident involving the Bengawan train on the Purwokerto-Banyumas border claimed five lives and three people died on March 26 when the Mutiara Timur train hit a passing car in Margorejo, Surabaya. Most of the country's rail disasters are collisions or derailments caused by employee negligence, aging railway lines and trains, and carelessness on the part of people crossing railway tracks.

While the transportation industry faces overhaul, Indonesia’s attempts to tackle corruption is also being challenged. A prime example is the two VLCC tankers and their sale -- former minister of state enterprises Laksamana Sukardi is alleged to have been involved in inflicting around Rp 50 billion in losses of the state. Another high profile case involves the misappropriation of Rp 100 billion at the central bank, which allegedly involved legislators and law enforcers.

These high profile graft cases are among 1,341 corruption cases, across the country, that are currently being tackled by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The fight over corruption has also been taken to the highest levels with the heated debate between president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Amien Rais over accusations the president had received foreign political aid; and the quarrel between the Supreme Court and the Supreme Audit Agency over the Court's refusal to be audited by the Agency.

"This shows us that nothing has changed in this country, it is still lawless," Chairman of Indonesia Transparency International, Todung Mulya Lubis, said as he commented on the results of the survey. One sign of this continued "lawlessness" can be seen in the trend of addressing corrupt acts through convoluted backroom deals, rather that through a more transparent legal processes. Denny said, "Every allegation must be proved through a legal process". "These compromises leave the people nothing but confusion as to the government's willingness to tackle corruption. "We never know what has actually been discussed in those deals, but, one thing for sure, it tears people's feeling apart," he said.

Last but not least, the old scourge is back. Indonesia, the nation hardest hit by the H5N1 virus, announced its 93rd death. A 47-year old man fell ill on Dec. 2 and was admitted to a Jakarta hospital and died, Health Ministry spokesman Joko Suyono said. The man was the 115th Indonesian infected with the disease. It is an unknown what 2008 will bring but bird flu is likely to be a continuing challenge for Indonesiain the new year.


At least 81 dead or missing in Indonesia floods, landslides: officials (Agence France Presse, 26 Dec 2007)

A disastrous year for national transportation (Jakarta Post, 26 Dec 2007)

Officials using 'backroom deals' to tackle corruption (Jakarta Post, 26 Dec 2007)

DPR, a house for political brokers (Jakarta Post, 26 Dec 2007)

Indonesian minister tells airlines not to buy European planes: report (Channelnewsasia, 20 Dec 2007)

Bird flu appears in IndonesiaChina as winter sets in (Taipei Times, 16 Dec 2007)