Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
John Lennon would be pleased to lend his tune Power To The People to thousands of demonstrators gathering this weekend as they attempt to engage the public and force the government to empower ordinary Indonesians in disaster prevention.
Over 1,600 activists from various non-governmental organizations from across the country are to convene here from Sunday to Monday to review the role of the public in protecting itself from both natural and man-made disasters. It will also look at ways the government can facilitate the concept.
The 2007 Law on Disaster Mitigation, Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) director Chalid Muhammad said Friday, does not focus on public involvement in anticipating disasters but rather forces their dependence on the government.
"If a disaster hits, it's the people who deal with it first, but their involvement in preventing disasters is little. They must be made able to help themselves before any disaster hits," he said.
Chalid said that 83 percent of Indonesian territory is prone to disasters and over 95 percent of the population is subject to these conditions. The government, he said, should make the most of local methods of mitigating and adapting to disasters.
Indonesia regularly suffers flash flooding, landslides and earthquakes, which experts and green groups attribute to faulty environmental management such as large-scale land conversions, illegal logging and mining in protected forests.
Government action on the matter, he said, is inadequately reactive rather than preventative.
Empowering the people, said Walhi expert Rizal Damanik, would involve allowing locals access to vulnerable areas and encouraging their involvement in building disaster-alert systems within their societies.
The disaster mitigation law mandates the promulgation of a national strategic plan for disaster mitigation, which critics say would rely "on the government giving and the people taking".
But Walhi said each region has its own unique way of dealing with disasters that might not be accommodated by the government plan, and that this weekend's convention would draw a summary of these practices.
Officials to attend the Sunday opening of the three-day event include State Minister of the Environment Rachmat Witoelar, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar and Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Freddy Numberi.
On the last day, participants will visit the House, the Regional Representatives Council, the National Development Planning Agency and the Finance Ministry to submit the event's results.
Acknowledging that the results may well be shelved by the government, Chalid said the bigger task is to ensure they are applicable locally and to push civil organizations to raise public awareness and involvement.
"The basic idea of this, at the end of the day, is to muster a people-based disaster mitigation system. The results we expect to come up with can hopefully be integrated into ensuing legislation such as ordinances and government regulations," he said.