Indonesia’s natural disasters: Quakes rattle West Sulawesi, flood hits South Kalimantan, volcanic eruptions in Merapi and Semeru, landslides in West Java and North Sulawesi

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Indonesia experienced a rough start in 2021 as numerous natural disasters have hit the archipelagic nation since New Year’s Day, from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions.

From 1 January to 16 January, there have been 136 instances of natural disasters in Indonesia, claiming 80 lives and injuring 858, the National Agency for Disaster Mitigation (BNPB) data showed.

The figure comprises 95 floods, 25 landslides, 12 weak tornadoes, two quakes, and two tidal waves, excluding the most recent Mount Semeru eruption on 16 January.

Quakes in West Sulawesi

The Geophysics, Climatology, and Meteorology Agency (BMKG) recorded a 6.2-magnitude tremor last Friday (15 January) at 1.28 am West Indonesia Time (2.28 am Singapore Time) in West Sulawesi.

The quake’s epicentre was 35 kilometres south of Mamuju — the capital of West Sulawesi — at a depth of 10 kilometres.

Previously, a 5.9-magnitude quake rattled the province on 14 January at 1.35 pm West Indonesia Time (2.35 pm Singapore Time), with the epicentre being 4 kilometres northwest of Majene, PikiranRakyat reported.

The first two quakes were shallow coastal quakes due to the Mamuju-Majene Thrust, meaning that the earthquakes have a thrust fault mechanism.

Head of BMKG Dwikorita Karnawati warned the potential of aftershocks, fearing that those can potentially give rise to tsunamis.

The BNPB reported that 73 died from the quake as of 17 January, the latest data from the BNPB showed.

As of 7.03 am West Indonesia Time (8.03 am Singapore Time) on 16 January, as many as 32 aftershocks had been recorded, the BMKG said.

Is deforestation the leading cause of South Kalimantan’s flood?

Flood in South Kalimantan has inundated more than 27,000 houses and forced over 112,000 people to seek refuge.

Green activists blamed environmental degradation for causing a massive flood, citing the uncontrolled opening of palm oil plantations and abandoned holes due to mining activities as culprits.

Director of the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi)’s South Kalimantan chapter Kisworo Dwi Chayono told CNBC that South Kalimantan has suffered severe environmental degradation.

Data showed that 50 per cent of the province’s 3.7 million hectares of forest have been controlled by mining and palm oil firms.

The BNPB stated a further study would be necessary to conjure solutions to flood problems in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Landslide kills in Sumedang and Manado

A landslide hit Cihanjuang Village in Sumedang, West Java on 9 January. The disaster killed 29 and The National Agency for Search and Rescue (BASARNAS) was still searching for 11 victims, as reported on 16 January.

Rain and landslide also claimed six lives in Manado — North Sulawesi’s capital — as a resullt of the extreme weather that hit the province for the past few days.

Flood and landslide hit Manado and its surrounding in January 2014.

Walhi’s North Sulawesi chapter blamed the province’s administration for not being serious in handling flood problems and only focusing on economic development.

Eruptions of Mount Merapi and Mount Semeru

Mount Semeru erupted on 16 January at 5.24 am West Indonesia Time (6.24 Singapore Time), affecting nine sub-districts in Probolinggo, East Java.

Mount Merapi in Central Java, one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago, has spewed hot clouds since 7 January, the Geological Disaster Technology Research and Development Center (BPPTKG) said.

Previously, the BPPTKG warned of the potential eruption of Merapi in November last year.

“It’s just that if the eruption is an explosive eruption, the strength will not be the same as the 2010 eruption. But whether it is effusive or explosive, the eruption of Merapi must be anticipated,” BPPTKG Yogyakarta head Hanik Humaida said at a webinar.

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