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Disaster-Prone Indonesia Lacking in Government ICT
Source: futuregov.asia
Source Date: Monday, November 01, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Indonesia
Created: Nov 01, 2010

Five days after a fifth natural disaster struck Indonesia in a month, a senior official told FutureGov that the government needs to invest more in ICT to improve how Indonesia responds to emergencies and distributes aid to afflicted areas.

Criticism has been levelled at the government’s response to a tsunami that has claimed 449 lives in Sumatra’s Mentawai islands, and volcanic eruptions in Java that killed 36 people a few hours later, for being too slow at getting resources to the affected areas.

The German-Indonesian Tsunami Warning System (GITWS), implemented in 2008 to avert a catastrophe like the Banda Acheh tsunami in 2004, was also blamed for failing to alert people on the Mentawai islands to the incoming waves.

The GITWS relies on devices that record sea levels in deep water, and relay data to a control room in Jakarta via buoys on the ocean surface.

“It is difficult to know exactly when and where natural disasters will occur, because it is difficult to deploy warning systems that cover the entire country,” said Dr Zainal Hasibuan (pictured), Vice Chairman, Indonesia ICT Council, who gave an interview at FutureGov Forum Sri Lanka last week.

“What we can do is think smarter about how to use ICT to mobilise resources to remote areas quicker. This is a big topic of discussion now in government.”

The rolling out of broadband infrastructure and the implementation of a ‘single ID’ project are necessary to enhance Indonesia’s disaster management capabilities - which have not improved as much as they should since 2004, Zainal remarked.

A lack of ICT-based resource management has meant unnecessary loss of life, he added, referring to a volcanic eruption in Sinabung, north Sumatra in August, which claimed two lives.

“Many people suffered from smoke inhalation because they didn’t receive oxygen masks from emergency services – they received food instead, which they didn’t need. There was no system to connect the victims to relief resources.”

Victims could have been easily identified and located if they had a unique identity number, Dr Zainal suggested. “We would know exactly how many citizens lived in an affected area, where they live, and the demographic structure of the population.”

Indonesia has piloted a ‘single ID number’ project. But the scheme, which is being led by the Ministry of Home Affairs, is behind schedule and has suffered setbacks because of political disputes.

Another idea to improve Indonesia’s emergency response capabilities is a cloud-like platform on which government, NGOs and the private sector can work together more effectively on emergency response and resource allocation.

“Too often, different parties do not collaborate with one another, even though it’s in their own interests to do so. A cloud platform would enable better sharing of resources and best practice,” said Zainal.

To achieve these aims and others, more leadership was needed in driving the ICT agenda in government, he added.

“The key strategic thrusts of the Indonesian government are job creation, the eradication of poverty, fighting corruption, and economic growth. But there is a knowledge gap in the role ICT can play in achieving each of those objectives,” said Zainal.

The budget is there for projects such as broadband, single ID and cloud, but the money is not being spent because of conflicting legal barriers, he noted.

“The top leaders in our country do understand the potential of ICT in government. But it’s a matter of priorities. We need more champions of ICT in government to move things forward.”

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