How co-creation may help prevent deaths caused by natural disasters in Indonesia

By Nopriyanto Suhanda, MSc Public Policy student & associate at Fiscal Policy Agency, Indonesian Finance Ministry.

The earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, in November which claimed more than 320 lives and demolished thousands of houses only reconfirms that Indonesia, sitting along the Ring of Fire, is highly exposed to risks of natural hazards.

Not only was the Cianjur quake the most tragic natural disaster by far in that region in the previous 12 months, it also shows the country’s weak disaster preparedness and resilience.

The co-creation approach, among other strategies, may offer a solution to Indonesia’s vulnerability to risks from natural catastrophes. Co-creation is understood as a concept of policy formulation involving active participation of non-state actors, such as academics, community groups, NGOs and the private sector.

Co-creation may result in innovative solutions to “wicked” problems. Wicked problems are those that cannot be addressed in a business-as-usual manner, and therefore need new and creative solutions to disrupt existing practices and values.

Weak disaster resilience can be classified as a wicked problem. The death toll from the Cianjur earthquake could reflect the lack of basic knowledge about disaster emergencies in the community, not to mention the atrocious quality of infrastructure.


Community-based disaster risk management

In implementation, disaster risk management usually follows a top-down approach, where people are forced to manage disaster risks in certain ways. This is not effective. Disaster risk management must be universal, involving all stakeholders (government, private sector and community groups). This is where a new, collaborative, open and creative co-creation approach can play a role.

The core spirit of co-creation in disaster risk management can be reflected in community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM). CBDRM is an approach mainly supported by local communities to reduce vulnerability and increase capacity to deal with disaster risks.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has enforced Regulation No. 1/2012 on the general rules of disaster resilient villages that provides the basis for CBDRM. In addition, Law No. 24/2007 on disaster mitigation highlights the participation of citizens and other stakeholders in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

However, the implementation of such an approach has not been successful due to overlapping roles between stakeholders, unsustainable programs and the classic problem of insufficient funding.

In terms of overlapping roles, many government bodies have created similar programs, such as the alert village program by the Social Affairs Ministry and community-based disaster alerts by the Indonesian Red Cross. Instead of being collaborative, these create ineffective measures. Moreover, such programs are short term in nature, and are only effective when disasters occur and in the beginning of the programs, probably due to shortages of funds.


Learning from others

We can learn from Japan, which is also a disaster-prone country. Katahira district in Sendai city established a CBDRM organization in 2013 called the Katahira Community Development Association (KCDA). This organization has four major goals: Establishing safety and security, energizing the community, conserving and making active use of history and the environment, and developing a sustainable community development system.

Since the great earthquake in Japan in 2011, the KCDA has been trying to promote its DRR capacities by developing disaster response, disaster survival and shelter management manuals, conducting emergency drills, and transmitting DRR information to local residents, including foreigners, in cooperation with related local stakeholders. These activities are conducted by community disaster management leaders, called sendaishi-chiiki bosai leaders (SBLs), who are trained and certified by the Sendai city government to carry out DRR activities. Furthermore, school-aged children from elementary to high school formed a community development team in 2015 under the KCDA to conduct community development activities.

For the co-creation approach to succeed, the Indonesian government can take the role of enabler. The government needs to be open and collaborative in addressing this problem. The additional resources by other non-state parties should become a catalyst to collaboratively solve the problem of wicked disaster risk.


Effective strategies to support communities

There are at least three things the government could do to promote the quality of CBDRM. First, the government must provide a clear umbrella of regulations and guidance in regard to the CBDRM. All government measures need to be smoothly orchestrated by the government body, in this case the BNPB, while open to collaboration with other stakeholders.

Second, the government could provide infrastructure (such as technology) to promote community capacity. Lastly, the government could fill in the financing gap.

In 2018 the government launched the disaster risk financing and insurance (DRFI) strategy to mitigate fiscal risks caused by disasters. This can be the source of funds needed to boost co-creation in the disaster risk-management approach.

The co-creation approach in disaster risk management comes with challenges. The drawbacks of co-creation are selective participation biases allowing well-educated actors to set the agenda, stigmatization of non-contributors, limited transparency and accountability, growing administrative cost, the risk of government overload and limited possibility for central planning and holistic coordination.

Despite the challenges, it is worth the attempt as co-creation is based on resource exchange, mutual learning, innovation and continuous adaptation.

In addition, co-creation in disaster risk management should focus not only on the post-disaster recovery, but more importantly on the pre-disaster period (preparedness and mitigation). For instance, Vietnam has implemented DRR education and mainstreaming climate change and DRR into the school curriculum.

Besides education, communities and other non-state actors can prepare scenarios based on data and knowledge to respond to disasters. Stakeholders can also promote their preparedness in terms of emergencies to help them survive the disaster impacts. Experts and professionals can also take part by providing analysis and recommendations to boost community resilience.

Although it is not an instant process, co-creation in disaster risk management will build robust community capacity and resilience in the face of natural disasters.


The writer is an associate at Fiscal Policy Agency, Indonesian Finance Ministry, and an MSc student in Public Policy at University of Bristol.

This article was first published in with the title “Co-creation approach to promote disaster risk management”. View the article.

Picture credit: Ade lukmanul Hakim

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