The Social Construction of Disasters: The Gap Between Policy Maker and People

Ahmad Arif (Universitas Indonesia)


Indonesia has been known as one of the countries at highest risk for almost all kinds of natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, yet awareness of the risks and disaster preparedness in Indonesian communities are moderately low. In June–July 2011, the newspaper Kompas conducted a survey with 806 respondents in eight cities that experienced earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions. Among the respondents, only 8.4 percent believed disaster risks could be reduced through mitigation and preparedness. Most of the survey respondents were likely to see natural disasters as inevitable destiny to which they should resign themselves. Such beliefs contribute significantly to the decisions of survivors to return to residing in disaster-affected areas, as happened in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, as well as in various other locations in Indonesia where natural disasters had taken place. These beliefs stand in contradiction to the policies in Indonesia that base on scientific perspective, which holds that people can maintain some control over their destinies in the face of disasters and disaster risks. This paper will discuss about the gap between the government’s perspective on disaster management with the social construction of Indonesian people on disaster. In view of this, any mitigation strategy should be open and dialectical with local traditions, local knowledge, faith, and religions. Cultural dialogue should be encouraged to bridge the gap between policymakers who use modern mitigation plans and members of traditional society who still believe in the spirituality of mountains, and a social approach to disaster mitigation should be implemented, along with the provision of modern observation equipment.