December 30, 2022
JAKARTA – While 2022 saw a reduction in the occurrence of natural disasters, the death toll nonetheless ranked the highest in four years as a result of the deadly Cianjur, West Java, earthquake in November, as authorities promised improved disaster resilience by building on experience learned from this year.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) told a year-end press briefing on Monday that this year, as of Dec. 25, saw a total of 3,461 natural disasters, although that number might still rise as some regional administrations have not finished submitting their data.
In contrast, 2021 saw a total of 3,514 natural disasters, while 2020 saw more than 5,000.
Of this year’s disaster events, hydrometeorological disasters ranked the most common at 3,154 occurrences, with 1,493 floods, 1,033 instances of extreme weather and 628 landslides.
But, this year’s death toll of 844 deaths was the highest since 2018. Some 5,000 lives were lost in 2018, a majority of which were in the devastating 7.4-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Palu, Central Sulawesi, in September of that year.
“Despite hydrometeorological disasters making up 95 percent of this year’s total tally, in terms of the deaths, 80 percent were due to earthquakes,” the BNPB’s data and information center acting head Abdul Muhari said.
The shallow 5.6 magnitude land-based quake that struck Cianjur regency in November contributed most to this year’s death toll, as around 602 lives were lost during the deadly incident.
The second-deadliest natural disaster this year was the 6.1 magnitude land-based quake that shook West Sumatra’s Pasaman regency in February, killing 27 people.
West Java at risk
Of this year’s natural disasters, Abdul said that 814 instances, some 24.5 percent, occurred in West Java. This was followed by Central Java and East Java, with 474 and 391 instances, respectively.
A closer look at the data shows that, out of the five regencies and cities with the highest occurrence of natural disasters throughout the country, four are in West Java. They are Bogor, Sukabumi, Bandung and Majalengka.
One of the reasons behind the common occurrence of natural disasters in West Java, according to Abdul, was the province’s sudden population and commercial growth.
“When we are talking about a population [rise], there will also be additional pressure on the environment due to the change in land use, be it for economic [activities] or housing. This reduces the carrying capacity of the natural environment,” Abdul said.
“Bogor regency, for instance, has topped the chart [for natural disaster frequency] in the past five years […] There needs to be more attention by the local administration, to assess the environmental conditions, the urban planning and [the regency’s] readiness to face disasters.”
With the Cianjur quake being the biggest contributor to this year’s death tally, Abdul said that the BNPB would put more focus on ensuring that residential buildings are built with quake-resistant materials, particularly as most of the Cianjur fatalities were caused by falling rubble.
“Every time there is an earthquake, we always say that it’s not the earthquake that kills, but the collapsing buildings,” he said. “There is no easier way to reduce the casualties in earthquakes than strengthening buildings.”
A closer look at the Cianjur death toll shows that, in terms of gender, 66 percent of the total casualties were women.
To this end, Abdul said that authorities should also pay additional attention to ensuring that vulnerable groups are given the proper drills and education to prepare them for natural disasters.
Aside from mitigating the risk of earthquakes, Abdul said that authorities also aimed to reduce the frequency of floods through better management of the natural environment.
“High rainfall is certainly a factor. But, if the environmental conditions are good, even if a flood occurs it should not have a heavy impact. As such, restoring the environment has become a major task for us,” he added.