Emergency in Lombok
President Joko Widodo needs to intervene in the handling of the disaster in Lombok. Tens of thousands of people need immediate help.
The government must immediately declare the Lombok earthquake a national disaster. Lengthy meetings to discuss the criteria for a disaster status will do little to help the people on the ground. The Richter 7 earthquakes and the continuing aftershocks have left hundreds dead, tens of thousands homeless, infrastructure severely damaged and utility supplies, including water, in chaos.
The emergency from the Lombok earthquake has a wider dimension because there were thousands of tourists on holiday in the popular resort region. To protect Lombok’s reputation as a destination for international holidaymakers, the government must act quickly to treat injured tourists and make sure all overseas visitors can return home safely and in an orderly fashion.
If the present state of affairs is allowed to continue, the government could be accused of ignoring the victims of disaster. Several reports from the region have shown the tardiness in treating casualties, the chaotic nature of aid distribution and the lack of clarity over the repairs to infrastructure urgently needed to restore services. And because they are still traumatized, hundreds of thousands of people are unwilling to return to their homes. At the same time, food, drinking water and other necessities have not reached the people who most need them.
This chaos has occurred because disaster management is still in the hands of the regional government. Although it has done its best, the West Nusa Tenggara government has been overwhelmed from the start, especially since most civil servants have been affected by the quake and have been busy saving their own families. President Joko Widodo must not allow this alarming situation to continue.
The lack of preparedness of the West Nusa Tenggara administration is apparent from the confusion over the number of people killed. Different institutions have been allowed to issue their own versions of the total-which all differ. According to the National Disaster Management Agency, 131 died-before last Thursday’s Richter 6.2 aftershock-while the provincial government has said there were 226 deaths. The differences in this crucial data have led to aid for victims being late and going to the wrong places.
The evacuation of tourists was also disorganized. Some 2,700 tourists trapped on Gili Trawangan had to spend the night on the devastated island before being taken off the following day. They were unable to sleep that night after hearing the tsunami warning sirens. Thousands of survivors could do nothing but wait because there was no high ground or tsunami shelter to run to.
The accounts of the chaotic handling of the post-earthquake situation should be a strong reason to declare a national disaster in Lombok. Law No. 24/2007 on Disaster Management stipulates five criteria for this status: the number of casualties, damage to property, damage to infrastructure, extent of the area affected and socioeconomic impact. But if these five criteria are not met, Presidential Regulation No. 17/2018 on Disaster management in Special Circumstances allows the president to intervene.
Therefore, the ball is in President Jokowi’s court. A decision on the status of the disaster in Lombok could change things for hundreds of thousands of victims anxiously waiting for help.