Assessment: Tsunami Demolished Indonesia's Coastal Environment

KOBE, Japan, January 21, 2005 (ENS) - Beyond the "horrific" loss of human life, the first environmental assessment of Indonesia's coast after the earthquake and tsunami of December 26 shows severe damage to mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, forest, lands, and riverine areas, and the loss of three major industrial sites. The report was released in Jakarta on Wednesday and discussed today at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe.

The assessment, carried out by the government of Indonesia and the international donor community, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), estimated the economic cost to the environment at Rp. 5.1 trillion ($US675 million).

Over 114,000 people lost their lives in Indonesia alone, an estimated 555,000 people were displaced, and many were orphaned. There are 12,070 people still missing. In the 11 countries affected by the tsunami, more than 165,000 people died.


The inundated shore of Indonesia's Aceh province (Photo courtesy Jakarta Independent Media Center)
The damage is continuing today from heavy rains pounding Indonesia, hampering the efforts of relief workers from around the world who have rushed to the stricken area.

Commenting on the assessment, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer first emphasized the importance of the world's continuing and urgent response to the "terrible human tragedy and humanitarian relief effort in Indonesia, and other countries affected by the tsunami."

"But, it is clear that the recovery and reconstruction process underway must also invest in the environmental capital of natural resources, the forests, mangroves, and coral reefs that are nature's buffer to such disasters and their consequences," he said.

The undersea earthquake of magnitude 9.0 was located off the west coast of northern Sumatra, an Indonesian island on the Indian Ocean. The country's separatist province of Aceh bore the brunt of the destructive tsunami that resulted.

Among critical coastal habitats in Aceh and North Sumatra, 25,000 hectares of mangroves, 30 percent of 97,250 hectares of previously existing coral reefs, and 20 percent of 600 hectares of seagrass beds have been damaged, according to the assessment. The economic loss is valued at $118.2 million, $332.4 million, and $2.3 million respectively.


A small section of Banda Aceh's northern shore after the tsunami, December 28, 2004. (Two photos courtesy UNEP)
As a result of infiltration of saline water, sediment and sludge, it is estimated that 7.5 kilometers of river mouth is in need of rehabilitation, and hundreds of wells in the rural area need to be cleaned.

Along the coastal strip, it is estimated that 48,925 hectares of forest area was affected, and the assessment estimates that 30 percent of this area has been lost. In addition, large areas - approximately 300 kilometers - of coastal land area have been degraded or lost.

The report also notes the importance of properly managing the collection, processing and disposal of the huge amount of debris and waste caused by the tsunami. If not properly managed, wastes may pose a risk to human health as well as ecological functions.

Local environmental management capacity - staff, buildings, equipment, and records - have also been affected by the disaster, and the report stresses the importance of early re-establishment of solid waste management and other essential services.

Three major industrial sites are confirmed to be damaged: the Pertamina oil depot in Krueng/Banda Aceh, the Pertamina oil depot in Meulaboh, and the Semen Andalas Indonesia cement factory in Banda Aceh.

Possible contamination, including negative effects to human health and the environment, caused by damage to these and other industrial installations are a matter of serious concern.


The same section of Banda Aceh before the tsunami, June 2004.
Toepfer said that the findings in the Indonesia report add a sense of urgency to the ongoing work by UNEP and its partners in the region.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warns that sea conditions off the west coast of Aceh will likely worsen from mid-February to July, due to the phenomenon known as "the big swell." On January 19, WFP recommended that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) begin making plans to pre-position food stocks, because during this time period large ships cannot land in many areas and small boats will be unable to navigate the rough waters.

Specific requests for help have so far come from Indonesia, which has asked UNEP to establish an environmental crisis center, the Maldives, which has requested emergency waste management assistance and impact studies on coral reefs and livelihoods, and Sri Lanka and Thailand for environmental impact assessments.

Meanwhile, at UN Headquarters in New York, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution Wednesday asking Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a special envoy for the devastated region to help sustain global political will in support of medium and long term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction efforts led by the governments of the tsunami affected countries.

Emphasizing the urgent need to establish a regional early warning system in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia regions, the UN resolution welcomed the upcoming regional ministerial meeting on regional early warning cooperation to be held in Thailand on January 28.

Germany’s proposal to host a third international early-warning conference, covering the complete range of natural hazards, with a focus on the urgent implementation of early warning systems for hydro-meteorological and geological hazards on a global scale, was also welcomed.


More than 114,000 people died in Indonesia (Photo courtesy Jakarta Independent Media Center)
UNEP's own initial assessment report of the environmental damage, including damage to natural sea defenses such as coral reefs and mangrove swamps and chemical and waste installations, is expected next month to coincide with the organization's Governing Council taking place in Nairobi.

Welcoming the "good progress" made at the Kobe meeting, Toepfer said it was now accepted that environmental issues must be fully integrated in disaster preparation and response. He stressed the importance of tackling the issues at the regional level, particularly in Africa.

He emphasized the need to adequately address environmental hazards caused by human activities, such as chemical accidents and oils spills, and to implement community based approaches to disaster reduction such as UNEP's Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at the Local Level (APELL) program.

"The central role of the environment in disaster reduction, whether in early warning systems, or as a factor in reducing risk and vulnerability has been intensively discussed and integrated into the plan of action coming out of Kobe. There is now wide acceptance that environmental degradation and depletion of natural buffers increases risks for, and impacts from, natural and man-made disasters," Toepfer said.

"Now," he stressed, "we need action, targets and a firm timetable of implementation."

"Indonesia: Preliminary Damage and Loss Assessment" is available on UNEP's website dedicated to the Asian Tsunami disaster at: