Indonesia: A History of Tragedy

By Holbrook, Emily | Risk Management, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Indonesia: A History of Tragedy


Holbrook, Emily, Risk Management


The 17,508 islands that make up the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia are no strangers to natural disasters. The fact that they are surrounded by warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lie along earthquake-causing subduction plates makes the region vulnerable to both tropical cyclones and earthquakes. Even more troublesome, the islands are home to 129 active volcanoes. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has called Indonesia the most disaster-prone country in the world. Here, we look at some of the worst catastrophes to afflict the country.

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TSUNAMI--2004

On December 26, 2004, a massive, 9.1 magnitude, undersea earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra. The earthquake triggered an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000, making it the fifth deadliest earthquake in recorded history. The hardest hit areas were Aceh, Indonesia; Tamil Nadu, India; Sri Lanka; Thailand and Maldives. All together, 14 countries were affected by tsunamis that created waves reaching 100 feet in height.

SUMATRA AND KALIMANTAN FIRES--1997

What started as controlled burns for land clearing ended as uncontrollable wildfires that swept through the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan from August 1997 through March 1998. The fires burned 37,000 square miles of forest and released more than 2.6 gigatons of C[O.sub.2] into the atmosphere. The smoke and particulates from the fires caused what is known as the 1997 Southeast Asian haze, a large-scale, air-quality disaster causing widespread visibility and health problems. Because of the increased demand for health care and the disruption in air travel and business activities, the cost of the haze is estimated at $9 billion.

KRAKATOA--1883

It has been called the loudest explosion in human history. After three months of relatively small eruptions, the Krkatau (aka Krakatoa) volcano turned deadly on August 26, 1883, when it began spewing a column of black ash 17 miles into the sky and shooting pumice rocks ontO the decks of ships as far as 25 miles away. …

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