A devastating earthquake hit Indonesia over the weekend, even as the country is still struggling to recover from the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami off Sumatra Island that killed about 168,000 people in the country in December 2004.
This time a magnitude-6.3 quake ripped apart vast areas of the ancient city of Yogjakarta and adjacent, mostly farming, communities in the central part of Java Island. More than 5,500 people were killed, more than 10,000 others injured, and as many as 200,000 people left homeless.
The effects of the temblor will be felt for a long time. Both governmental and nongovernmental organizations must offer not only immediate food, water and health assistance but also long-term assistance that includes making the quake-hit region resilient to future earthquakes.
The United States, European countries and Australia quickly reacted to the news of the temblor and expressed their readiness to send assistance to Indonesia, which has also suffered from terrorist bomb attacks in Bali and Jakarta since 2002.
Japan has sent a relief team of medics and officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to Java Island, and has decided to extend a grant of 1.11 billion yen plus relief goods. Japan can assist Indonesian people in their reconstruction efforts. It can also furnish considerable expertise in such fields as seismological studies and quake-resistant housing construction.
The power of the Java earthquake was one-thirtieth of that of the 1995 Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake, whose magnitude was 7.3. Nevertheless, the death toll from the Java quake was close to that of the Kobe quake (about 6,400). This is apparently due to the relatively lower quake-resistance of buildings in the Indonesian area. Images sent from the area show that wooden houses and houses made of low-temperature-baked bricks were flattened. The fact that the quake occurred early in the morning, at 5:54 a.m., while people were sleeping contributed to the large death toll.
Japan has inexpensive technology that will increase the quake-resistance of houses made of bricks and stones laid atop each other. Developed by Professor Kimiro Meguro, an expert on engineering to mitigate earthquake disaster at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, the method consists of affixing adhesive polypropylene bands to the surface of a house. The surface is covered with a mesh formed by the length of the band. The band tends to make a house resistant to horizontal vibrations. After a magnitude-7.6 earthquake hit Pakistan in October 2005, Professor Meguro offered his help to that country.
The Java quake was focused 10 km under the sea about 25 km southwest of Yogjakarta. As in the Kobe quake, it is believed to have occurred when an active fault moved — not when one tectonic plate buckled under another plate. The 2004 quake off Sumatra occurred as the Indo-Australia Plate on the oceanic side hit the Eurasian Plate on the continental side.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because it sits where the two tectonic plates meet. In addition to tectonic earthquakes and earthquakes caused by fault movements, volcanic activities are likely to cause damage to the Southeast Asian country.
Since the area hit by the Java quake is not as large as the area hit by the 2004 quake and tsunami, relief activities might end sooner. But amid increased awareness of the possibility of frequent earthquakes hitting Indonesia in the future due to its geological location, long-term assistance has become all the more important. Japan, as a quake-prone country, should share its experience and expertise with Indonesia. Japan can help Indonesia detect geological faults that have been unknown till now and study their activities as well; it can determine the degree of quake-resistance of buildings and make them strong.
Recent societal and economic changes in the central part of Java may have increased the risk of human casualties during an earthquake. Yogjakarta’s character is similar to that of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto. Along with Bali, the city has become a destination of many tourists, since the Borobudur Buddhist temple and the Prambanan Hindu temple complex, both World Heritage sites, are located nearby. The development of the tourist industry is partly responsible for an increase in Yogjakarta’s population — from 300,000 to 400,000 in the 1970s to about 600,000 at present.
An urban population density apparently resulted in a higher death toll in this quake. This is a point Japanese officials and citizens need to ponder as they prepare themselves for big earthquakes that could strike Japan anytime.
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