Series of Writing on Disaster Risk Reduction Learning Process in Sangihe, North Celebes, Indonesia (Part 3):
It took a long process for the villagers of Bahu and Raku, sub-district of Tabukan Utara, North Celebes (Sulawesi Utara) Province, to become more prepared for living with disaster. They had proved such preparedness when dealing with tsunami alert posed by Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics or BMKG following the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the Pacific coastline of Japan’s northern islands on March 11, 2011 (read Working Hand in Hand to Deal with Disaster: The Stories of Bahu and Raku Villages, page 8-9, red.)
“In the past, we were always panicking, confused to coordinate and didn’t care about others but our own family. Such situation happened after the eruption of Gunung Awu on June 2004,” explained Suwano Maniku, village chief of Bahu.
He clearly remembered the event of Gunung Awu’s eruption that time. People were panicking and trying to save themselves. The village had neither disaster preparedness team (TSBD) nor anyone ever obtained knowledge about disaster preparedness. In addition to this, village and sub-district officials were not ready to perform any coordinated tasks during such emergency situation.
“We were confused about what ought to be prepared and coordinated, how to evacuate the villagers and brought them to safer place. We had no knowledge about many things, even though such things were essential for us living in an area prone to disasters,” added Suwano.
Suwano explained that a month before its latest eruption, the elderlies (traditional leaders) and village officials of Bahu, including Marjun Samau ( Kuncen- keeper traditional for volcano in the village – he passed away in 2006) had observed the activity of the volcano and noticed some unusual behaviors.
Some natural signs appeared prior to the eruption, which reminded some of the elderlies to the latest eruption it had in 1966. The animals behave strangely; migrated in big group, moving away from the forest area at the mountain. There were also changes in groundwater chemistry; the river channel surrounding the volcano had the smell of sulfur. At the beach, hundreds of sea urchin appeared (its local name was seloai). The appearance of hundreds of sea urchin also happened when the volcano erupted in 1966, claimed the life of 9 villagers of Bahu.
The elderlies, the keeper of the mountain and the community leader, could observe such natural signs, which was unknown for most of the people due to their limited knowledge. Unfortunately, the information was kept among the elderlies and not to be informed to the villagers so they could take some precautions.
When Gunung Awu started to show more intense seismic activities, the villagers started panicking and flew to stay at their relatives, to avoid the danger the volcano posed.
Selvina Saimbulan or Ibu Eshter explained that her family had to evacuate themselves to her relatives living far away from Gunung Awu. “I could not think about others but to save the life of my family. Prior to the evacuation, we had chance to perform daily prayer at home,” she added.
Sardia Darampalo, the villager of Bahu, had different experience. She was eight months pregnant that time. She was told to go to evacuation center at Enemawira, the capital of the sub-district because the government had put high alert for Gunung Awu’ current status. The government even had provided transportation for evacuation.
“I heard the announcement from the sub-district’ officials and I looked at Gunung Awu; I was severely panicked as volcanic ash started to escape from the chamber below the surface. But how fast could an eight-months pregnant woman ran?” she added.
Her mother had to escort her, walking slowly during the evacuation. Her husband was working in Manado,far away from village and Island. So, she and her mother and her aunt that later flew to the evacuation center. She joined huge mass of evacuees. She didn’t feel convenient to be among hundreds of people due to her condition. Later she decided to stay at her aunts.
“Could you imagine the daily situation I had to deal with at the evacuation center and what would happen with my baby and I? I didn’t want to take that risk,” she added.
The villagers of Raku also experienced the same situation when flooding devastated their village in 2007. There was no disaster preparedness team, evacuation routes, and protection plan for clean water resources from 1,5 meters height of flood. In addition to this, they didn’t know how to prioritize the safety of pregnant women.
Mufidah Kaehe, villager of Lindongan I, was seven months pregnant that time. She started panicking when the water flew into her house. No one helped her to run away from such situation but herself and her family.
The flooding also had polluted clean water resources in the village of Raku. Jahidin Abelar, villager of Lindongan I, explained that he had to get clean water from his neighbor’s well. “The water from our well was polluted by the debris and we had to filter it before it was safe for drinking,” he added.
The villagers of Raku never thought that the flooding would ruin their clean water resources. Such situation was extremely difficult for women and children. “We didn’t have clean water for cooking. It became more difficult to us if we were on our period. We supposed to be the one finding the ways to get clean water (for cooking and other household activities) because our husbands had to find ways to clean our garden from the debris,” explained Fatmin Kaehe.
Long Process of Becoming More Resilient Communities
The disasters had brought its lesson to be learned by the villagers of Bahu and Raku. They used to think that it happened because of God’s will. They didn’t have any knowledge or information that the impact of the disaster could be reduced; people could prepare themselves for the event of disaster long before it struck. Every thing started to change when a NGO named KELOLA came to their villages in 2008 to introduce Disaster Risk Reduction Program.
“They had opened our eyes that preparing ourselves for the event of disasters ought to be carefully done; it required awareness and deliberate intention. We were enthusiast to engage into the process of obtaining such useful knowledge and therefore, to prepare ourselves better for the event of disasters,” explained Rusdi Tompoh, one of community leaders of Bahu.
Starting in 2008, KELOLA invited the people of 14 villages at 4 sub-districts prone to disasters to actively involve in socializing disaster risk reduction. They were encouraged to join the process of building their villages becoming safer and more resilient communities. The people identified the potential of disasters in their villages and initiated mitigation activities at community level; altogether, these were translated into Community-Based Action Plan.
Community-Based Action Plan they produced was quite simple. However, they put emphasis on public access and facilities for disaster risk reduction. The people of Raku decided to re-build the road, to conserve the clean water resources, to build dike to prevent flooding, and to establish credit union for women to help them fulfilling daily needs and helping them in the event of disasters.
The villagers of Bahu suggested the procurement of 4,2 kilometers long of water pipe to provide 71 household units of Lindongan I with clean water. They also established cooperative for women.
“In the event of disaster, women faced difficulties. Household items were damage. They had to empty their savings to replace the broken items. So, credit union could benefit women regardless the event of disasters,” added Elisabeth Harindah, the chair of credit union of Bahu.
The villagers participated in some training to enhance their knowledge about disasters and their skills of responding to emergency situation. Then, they created village-based disaster preparedness team or TSBD, decided evacuation routes and assembly points, and enacted fix procedure to respond to the disasters. Finally, an emergency drill was put on test.
“Of course, all of these were not easy for us who usually spent our times at the kitchen and taking care of our children and husbands. But we were happy to obtain useful knowledge so now we were not scared for disasters anymore. It still could happen anytime, but by no longer afraid, we were more prepared to face it,” added Fatmin.
Now, the villagers of Bahu and Raku could proudly say, “Good bye panic, we were no longer afraid…” (Musfarayani/oxfam)