Category Archives: Disaster Governance

Hillslope Development in Penang: Sustainability or Unviability?

In this post, I write about my ongoing research on urban redevelopment in Penang, Malaysia, and in particular, about recent severe flooding and landslide events that are increasing in frequency and intensity.

November 4th 2017 flood in Penang

Historic cities within Asia’s rapidly developing and urbanising regions tend to sit at an ‘uneasy crossroads’ between heritage conservation and newer (re)development projects. In these places, understandings of landscape and how it should be used become increasingly tangible and contested. The mid-sized city of Penang, Malaysia is one key site where this is playing out at the moment, given recent flooding and landslide events that have been increasing in both severity and intensity. In October 2016 there were severe floods (the largest since the 1990s) during the Deepavali holiday season which caused significant damage and disruption. There have already been two major floods this year, one on September 15th and another on November 4th, the latter of which claimed the lives of seven, primarily elderly and other at-risk people. Moreover, there was a landslide at a hillside construction site in the Tanjung Bungah area on October 21 this year which killed 11 workers. This has been attributed to high density residential developments on hill land in Penang, which has intensified due to the lack of developable land around the city center and housing shortages. Local civil society groups have thus become increasingly vocal in protesting this ongoing development, and stressing the dangers of building high-density residential units on the islands forested hillsides.

Hillside development in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

In his (2016) book The Sustainability Shift Malaysian scholar Adnan Hezri has noted that civil society movements in Malaysia often emerge over controversial land use decisions, or, in other words, because the environmental imaginaries of their members are at odds with official conceptions of what sort of development is best for a particular place. Indeed, there seems to be an impasse between the government and civil society in Penang at the moment, which continue to have differing views on the causes of and recommended solutions to these events. For example, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has recently reiterated that Penang’s floods are “natural disasters” and not caused by development. On the other hand, civil society groups, backed by local academics, argue that the floods are a result of both climate change and unscrupulous development projects on Penang island. Though, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak recently commented that the Penang State Government should: “avoid developments that could negatively impact the environment”, indicating tensions within the Malaysian Government.

There are also differences between the level of environmental protection within both Federal and State Government policies. For example, Penang island has clearly demarcated forest reserves (6% of the island’s total land area), and the Penang Structure Plan (PSP) disallows development on slopes steeper than a 25% gradient and/or on land higher than 75 meters (an additional 1.5% of total land area). This is stricter than national guidelines for hill land development, demonstrating that Penang does actually have strong environmental protection measures in place. However, this restriction excludes ‘special projects’ which may be permitted by the State Government if they are low density developments and have strong mitigation measures in place to protect the integrity of the slopes. This exemption has been frequently invoked, resulting in an increase in both the extensive and intensive nature of hillside development in Penang. Penang civil society members have thus argued that this exemption should be revoked, apart from necessary public works, given that it has been over-used.

Many observers have thus stressed the fragility (and ecological importance) of Penang’s natural ecosystems, and the increasing encroachment of human activity. For example, between 2008 and 2015, the municipal council (MBPP) granted 56 approvals on land above 250 ft, many of which are high-rise, high-density projects. There was also a geometric rise in illegal hill clearing cases from 2012-2015. This is despite a declaration from the State Government in 2009, reported in the New Straits Times (February 17) that they would not approve any more hill-land development projects in the Tanjung Bungah area of Penang.

However, much of this land is not gazetted and hence no local plan to regulate its use. This creates considerable ambiguity over what type of development is permissible on Penang’s hillsides and allows for developers to exploit loopholes in existing policies. Land is also privately owned, which is problematic because it is more difficult for the government to monitor and protect hill land on a continuous basis, and there is strong incentive for land owners to develop land in their possession. As Gwynn Jenkins (2008:23) has observed, there seems to be “little comprehension of the possible implications of mismanagement or the consequences of ‘redefining’ the planning laws” amongst officials in Penang. There also seems to be little understanding of the amplifying effect of deforestation and urban development on the impact of flooding events.

Residents living near the hillsides – and environmentally conscious citizens of Penang – thus feel that development is getting ‘uncomfortably close’ (Kam, 2016). Indeed, a recent study by Masum et al (2017) found that the current rate of deforestation Penang is 1.4% per annum, which is the highest in Southeast Asia. The paper also identifies the direction of development on the island based on recent trends, which is extending further into Penang’s protected forest reserve area from all sides (see below image). Masum et al thus call for an immediate ban on hill land development in Penang to ensure overall environmental safety, which has been echoed by local civil society members. Given that Penang was originally entirely forested in early 19th century, NGOs such as the Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) have thus expressed concern over the rate that trees are being sacrificed for development.

As Hezri has also argued, the focus on socio-economic development in Malaysia’s Vision 2020 initiative (to reach status of a ‘fully developed’ nation by 2020) has resulted in many Malaysian’s becoming detached from the natural environment. This tension between conservation and development plays out in all rapidly developing cities, with the financial incentive to develop usually winning over conservation needs, given that they are perceived to have less tangible value. Moreover, tangible cultural heritage in George Town has taken priority over other forms of heritage elsewhere on the island, which is partly to do with the city’s designation as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site and the conservation of its associated heritage buildings. Indeed, Penang’s natural heritage is now rapidly disappearing, while its historic town center has been (at least on the surface) preserved.

The increasing recognition amongst Penangites of their dependencies upon the wider biophysical environment has thus been central to the process of cultivating a collective response to the harms of Penang’s intensifying development. However, this recognition is one that will need to spread throughout the Penang society more broadly in order for change to occur, and may even need to take the form of ousting the current state government, as has resulted following previous environmental movements in the state. Without such resistance, Penang will continue to be impacted in compounding ways by the unregulated interventions into nature that are currently increasing in both frequency and severity.

Creighton Connolly, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

 

Climate Disaster Governance, 21-22 September 2017

The Asia Urbanisms Cluster (AUC) recently hosted the final event in a three-year project to investigate the impact of disasters on urban life. The disaster governance theme has been facilitated by an MOE Tier-2 grant on Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia [MOE2014-T2-1-017], awarded in 2014. This 3-year multidisciplinary programme was spearheaded by the AUC, working in concert with ARI’s Science, Technology and Society Cluster. Its aim has been to improve understandings of the changing risks, vulnerabilities, responses, and resilience to compounded environmental disasters in an increasingly interconnected urbanizing Asia. In particular, the grant has been instrumental in facilitating an inter-disciplinary dialogue across the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and related technical disciplines.

The final two-day event on ‘Climate Disaster Governance’ has seen these aims achieved by drawing together one of the widest cross-disciplinary dialogues to be held during the course of this grant. Involving people from climate science, geography, sociology, history, public health, applications, agricultural sectors, and more, this conference explored avenues for collaborative work and dialogue to take place. Such an approach is critical to tackling some of the climate related challenges of the 21st century, which will see all basic facets of human life impacted by nature-induced disasters, perhaps to a greater scale than ever before.

In Anthropocene Asia-Pacific, climate change is driving the nature and scale of environmental disasters (especially floods, droughts, and heatwaves) that combine and interact with processes of planetary urbanization. Livelihoods, food security, urban infrastructure, and health will be more frequently and deeply impacted by climate change, and therefore disaster risk governance will face increasingly tough, interconnected, multi-dimensional challenges. One is the merging of conflict disasters with environmental disasters over, for example, water and food. Populations facing disasters of these kinds will increasingly migrate across national borders as home regions become unlivable through the loss of, and resultant conflicts over, various basic life supporting resources. With refugee flows across borders expected to exponentially increase with the intensifying impacts of climate change, national governments will also increasingly default to migrant-receiving cities to cope with climate change refugees. This puts pressure on existing resources, imposes additional stresses on infrastructure, and worsens urban tensions. The increasingly extensive repercussions of climate change-related disasters demand joined up responses as a matter of urgency. Solutions need to run across the board and take account the connectivities between the causes, impacts, and experiences of climate change.

The conference was organised by Fiona Williamson, Michelle Miller, and Mike Douglass (ARI, NUS). Participants included representatives from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Vietnam; University of Southern Queensland, Australia; University of Hawaii, USA; Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, Thailand; Institute for Population, Family and Children Studies, Vietnam; United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Germany, and Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Chiang Mai University, Thailand; University of Newcastle, Australia; Singapore Management University; University of Brunei Darussalam; National Institute of Advanced Studies, India; Social Policy and Poverty Research Group, Myanmar; University of Colorado Denver, USA; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, as well as National University of Singapore. The full programme and speaker details can be found here.

Speakers and Chairs on Day 1 of the Conference

 

This conference was organized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; with support from Singapore Ministry of Education Tier 2 Grant – Governing Compound Disasters in Urbanizing Asia.

The Dilemma of Environmental Refugees in Asia: The Case of Disaster-Induced Urbanization in Bangladesh

Author: Marcel Bandur

Re-blogged from the ARI Disaster Governance Asia Blog

The global climate change, accelerated by anthropogenic interventions into the natural environment, has led to warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, harsh droughts, destructive storms and severe floods. Together, all these conditions contribute to the loss of livelihoods resulting from either slow or rapid onset disasters.  Some estimates predict that over the next 40 years global climate change will compel up to 200 million people to migrate. According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 37 million people in India, 22 million in China, and 21 million in Indonesia will be at risk of displacement from rising sea levels by 2050. Extreme weather conditions affect rural dwellers and farmers disproportionately more than urban and middle-class citizens.

Currently, the majority of environmental refugees are displaced internally, with cities being within home countries their primary destination. A study published in Climatic Change on the 20 most populous cities expected to be exposed to coastal flooding by 2070, placed Dhaka third, behind Mumbai and Calcutta. Also in the top 10 are Guangzhou, Ho Chi Min City, Shanghai, Bangkok and Yangon. Miami is the only city in the top 10 that is located outside of Asia. Asia’s urbanisation and the expansion of Asian megacities are trends accelerated by the influx of environmental refugees.  As these trends continue, refugee movements are expected to increasingly witness the migration of people across national borders due to the extreme impacts of such massively impacting trends related to global climate change.  In Asia, this will include not only sea rise but also the melting of the Himalaya-Tibetan glaciers that are the sources of the majority of riparian systems in continental Asia.

The term “environmental refugee” was first coined by Lester Brown in 1976, who was attempting to amalgamate similar concepts floating around at the time. “Environmental migrant”, “climate change migrant” or “environmentally displaced person” are similar terms with one commonality: they all define an individual who is displaced due to extreme changes in environmental conditions that reach a point at which continuing to dwell in a locality is no longer viable. To-date, climate refugees are not officially recognised or protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was adopted before human-driven climate change became its own global crisis, and entered the global consciousness. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants recognizes that climate change is becoming a driver for people to leave their homes. Still, the rules are written for those escaping war zones or persecution, not creeping desertification or weather disasters. While the 1951 Convention remains the key legal document defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of governments, the world has changed dramatically over the past 60 years. No binding global agreements contain provisions for them, despite the first assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990 suggesting that “the gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration” (IPCC, 1990: 20).

The legal gap in the protection of environmental and climate change refugees poses a challenge to the nations such as Tuvalu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives, which are likely to lose significant part of their land over the next 50 years. As the number of environmental and climate change refugees will reach up to 200 million in the next 40 years, climate change will become the leading cause of displacement. Unless the international community addresses the glaring absence of the legal protection and support of environmental refugees, cross-border violence, human trafficking and humanitarian crises, as seen by the example of Bangladeshi climate refugees to the Assam region of India, are likely to prevail.

The intersection of environmental degradation and rapid urbanisation is most evident in the case of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. One quarter of Bangladesh and its 700 kilometres of low-lying coasts will be inundated by the end of the century. Sea rise will wipe out more cultivated land in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world. Saltwater intrusion into low-lying coastal and rural areas has increased the saline content of groundwater, damaging fresh water supplies for human consumption and destroying the rice fields. By 2050, rice production is expected to drop by 10% and wheat production by 30%. In Bangladesh, the issues are magnified by the density of the population. The best current estimates state that rising sea levels alone will displace 18 million Bangladeshis within the next 40 years.

(Hazaribagh, Dhaka, Allison Joyce photoblog, 2000)

Dhaka is the fastest-growing megacity in the world. At least 400,000 people move to Dhaka every year, with 70% of Dhaka’s slum-dwellers having moved there fleeing environmental disruption. Most of the displaced Bangladeshis are from the Rangpur, Dinajpur and Gainbanda region basin area, where frequent floods and saline groundwater has destroyed the farmers’ livelihoods. Within two decades, the city’s population could double to 30 million. Supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 km2 of land, the city’s drainage, waste management and transportation infrastructure is on the brink of collapse. The unsustainable levels of climate-induced displacement and migration causes a water supply-demand gap of 500m litres a day. It is estimated that currently 3.4 million people suffer from the scarcity of basic facilities like housing, healthcare, electricity and clean water. This number continues to increase exponentially.

Bangladesh contributes just 0.4 tonnes per capita to the carbon emissions (the US produces 17 and the UK 7.1), but the country, with Dhaka in particular, are suffering the hardest hit from environmental degradation caused by anthropogenic disruptions. Unsurprisingly, questions of environmental justice emerge, as the most polluting countries ought to share the burden. As discussed earlier, no international provision exists to protect environmental refugees. India, sharing more than 4,000km-long border with Bangladesh, is constructing a 3,400km of barbed wire fence. This makes the migration into India’s Assam dangerous and causes proliferation in human trafficking and smuggling of refugees escaping their lost livelihoods. In general, countries in South and East Asia have a bleak record of accepting refugees. Considering that the majority of environmental refugees in the next 40 years will come from countries in Asia, there is a danger of future socio-political contestation over migration policies in Asian countries.

The dynamics of environmental migration in Bangladesh foreshadow wider trends in Asia. Unsustainable urbanisation, proliferation of poverty and slum dwellers, depletion of vital resources, cross-border conflicts and ethnic violence will be the major challenges in the coming decades. Often, the nation-state apparatus proves ill-equipped to alleviate traumas caused by climate change migration. Increasingly, non-state actors, such as INGOs, MNCs and transnational diaspora communities appear to substitute the traditional role of a nation state in tackling humanitarian crises. The intertwinement of these megatrends is set to shape the face of migration politics and disaster governance in the Asia and the Pacific.

References:

Brown, L., Mcgrath, P., and Stokes, B., 1976. Twenty Two Dimensions of the Population Problem. Washington DC: Worldwatch Institute.

Hanson, S., et al, 2011. A global ranking of port cities with high exposure to climate extremes. Climatic Change , 104, 89-111.

IPCC, 1990. Policymakers’ summary of the potential impacts of climate change. Report from Working Group II to IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Commonwealth of Australia.

Poppy McPherson (in The Guardian), 2015. Dhaka: the city where climate refugees are already a reality. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/dec/01/dhaka-city-climate-refugees-reality. [Accessed 2 December 2016].

Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia and the Pacific

by Michelle Miller and Marcel Bandur
On November 17-18th, the Asian Urbanisms Cluster at ARI hosted a two-day workshop on ‘Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia’. Organised by Michelle Miller and Mike Douglass, this interdisciplinary conference brought together 28 scholars representing 11 disciplinary backgrounds to show how research on environmental disasters in the Asia-Pacific region illuminates questions of disaster justice from historical and contemporary perspectives. The event combined the richness of on-the-ground research with new insights into how to conceptualize and govern disasters from normative as well as explanatory perspectives. Our central organising premise for the conference was that disaster justice as a moral claim on governance arises from anthropogenic interventions in nature that incubate disasters and magnify their socially and spatially uneven impacts. The conversations generated by the event yielded rich insights into how the changing geographies of vulnerability accompanying the urban transition in Asia and the Pacific are adding new dimensions to disaster governance and justice.

Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia
Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia

As all disasters occur in political space, disaster justice is situated in spheres of governance and in the context of the rapidly urbanizing societies of the Asia-Pacific that are increasingly impacted by the advent of the Anthropocene, namely, the destructive human transformations of nature that are significant drivers of environmental disasters. Growing awareness of human complicity in creating socially and spatially uneven vulnerabilities to disasters is generating discontents and mobilizations for disaster justice as moral claims for more effective and inclusive modes of disaster prevention, mitigation, management and redress. Posing disaster justice as a problem of governance thus covers a set of issues that encompass but are also differentiated from such allied concepts as environmental and climate justice. As intense events that cause widespread harm and overwhelm existing capacities to respond, disasters generate highly charged but exceptionally complex questions of justice. These factors, combined with the increasingly compound characteristics of environmental disasters (for instance, when a tsunami leads to a nuclear power plant meltdown) further complicate issues of justice in establishing causalities, attributing blame, identifying victims and (re-)establishing working solutions.

Keynote speaker Robert Verchik from Loyola University opened the conference by laying out the social, legal and policy dimensions of managing physical exposure to, and social vulnerabilities rooted in spatial inequalities to explicate the linkages between building community resilience and fighting disaster-related injustices. He emphasised that “in the Anthropocene, there is no such thing as a natural disaster”. Indeed, disaster justice as a moral claim on governance arises from anthropogenic interventions in nature that incubate disasters and magnify their socially and spatially uneven impacts.

Keynote Speaker Robert Verchick (Loyola University)
Keynote Speaker Robert Verchick (Loyola University)

D. Parthasarathy of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay opened the second day of the conference with a keynote address on the moral imperative of interrogating uncertainty at multiple scales of governance and from diverse perspectives as a pre-requisite for enhancing resilience, coping and adaptation for long-term disaster risk reduction in urbanising populations across the Asia-Pacific.

Day two keynote speaker D. Parthasarathy
Day two keynote speaker D. Parthasarathy

Isaac Kerlow from the Earth Observatory of Singapore screened his short film titled “Change”. The conference participants were only the 2nd audience to watch the film, after it premiered the day before. The short film explored the disruption of the Earth’s natural balance due to rapid changes caused by our growth and prosperity.
The conference included themed panels based on paper presentations that spoke to questions of historicising disaster justice, justice in anthropogenic disasters, the politics of inclusion and exclusion in disaster (in)justices, the role of civil society in claims for disaster justice, and a special panel on disaster justice in South Asian localities, namely India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of the conference, the discussions generated significant insights drawing from a wide range of conceptual lenses and on-the-ground research.
Finding a consensus on the definition of Disaster Justice was not the goal of the conference. Rather, the conference highlighted what Disaster Justice mean for various communities and polities. The notion of Disaster Justice is yet to be played out, especially in light of raising consciousness regarding the anthropogenic essence of disasters. More importantly, this conference succeeded in fostering a diverse community of scholars and practitioners alike to draw Disaster Justice closer to the centre stage of academic and socio-political discourses.
Taken together, the conference surpassed expectations in pushing the parameters of theorising on the understudied concept of disaster justice within and beyond the rapidly urbanising societies of the Asia-Pacific, which are increasingly vulnerable to environmental disasters and their cascading impacts.

Conference: Disastrous Pasts: New Directions in Asian Disaster History

By Fiona Williamson and Chris Courtney

The interdisciplinary conference “Disastrous Pasts: New Directions in Asian Disaster History” will be held on 21-22 November at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Its focus is the role played by disasters in the history of Asia what past disasters can teach us about present conditions. It aims to explore the following key themes:

How did historic communities cope with disasters?
How have perceptions of environmental hazards changed over time and varied between cultures?
How can scholars develop cross-disciplinary dialogues to improve the understanding of disasters?
How have environmental hazards interacted with famines in the history of Asia?
How have epidemiological transitions and changes to public health influenced the outcome of disasters?

The full program and more details are available here: https://ari.nus.edu.sg/Event/Detail/f9b3d624-abc3-4564-8c79-450a1a3a5f32

Decentralized Disaster Governance: A Case for Hope from Mount Merapi in Indonesia?

by Dr. Michelle Ann Miller

In recent years, large eruptions from Indonesia’s most active stratovolcano, Mount Merapi (Gunung Merapi; Fire Mountain) on the island of Java, have led to realignments in rural-urban migration flows and shifts in the livelihoods and aspirations of thousands of affected residents. Living with threat and vulnerability is not new to the communities that call the slopes of Mount Merapi home. The volcano, situated in one of the most densely populated and well-connected parts of Indonesia, has erupted more than 70 times since 1548, on average every 8 to 15 years (Mei and Lavigne, 2013, p.172). Over the centuries, Merapi residents have acquired local knowledge to manage this uncertainty, underpinned by a spiritual understanding of the volcano’s reciprocal nature as a destroyer and renewer of life.

This traditional knowledge system has been both unsettled and reinforced by fundamental changes to Indonesia’s governance framework. The initiation of a nationwide democratic decentralization program in 2001 devolved key areas of central state authority and resources to the sub-national scale. Decentralization, or ‘otonomi daerah/ regional autonomy’ as it is called in Indonesia, empowered sub-national administrations in ways that encouraged competition between local governments while making inter-jurisdictional cooperation more difficult in times of disaster. The Merapi area is administratively divided into two provinces (the Special Region of Yogyakarta and Central Java) and five sub-provincial jurisdictions (the city of Yogyakarta, Sleman, Gunungkidul, Kulonprogo and Bantul) that are collectively home to more than 33.8 million people. Alongside these strengthened local governments, line ministries and a centrally coordinated disaster management agency have retained considerable if sometimes ambiguous and overlapping authority at the sub-national scale in the event of disaster.

Violent Merapi eruptions in 2006 and 2010 have highlighted the complexities of this convergence of centralised and decentralized governmental authority. Some 11,000 people were made homeless by a significant eruption shortly before the devastating tectonic earthquake of May 2006 in Yogyakarta. Then in November 2010, the biggest eruption since the 1870s killed 302 people and displaced around 148,000 as lava buried or burned almost 3,000 homes in six villages (Mahdi 2011; p.16).

On the one hand, unresolved tensions and intersections between centralized and decentralized governmental authorities have compromised the efficacy of disaster response and recovery programs in the Merapi area. Poor coordination between the provincial administrations of Yogyakarta and Central Java over centrally-allocated disaster funds and logistical resources has impeded long-term recovery processes and exacerbated inter-jurisdictional competition (Triyana 2013; p.117). For instance, when I drove to Mount Merapi in November 2013, the evacuation road on the mountain in the Special Province of Yogyakarta was mired in potholes and impassable 5 kilometres below the volcano’s summit crater. By contrast, the connecting road leading into Central Java was smoothly paved and well maintained from the beginning of the administrative border. The central government, too, seemed confused over how best to position itself in relation to local dynamics by pledging, for example, compensation schemes for Merapi residents without consulting local stakeholders first to find out what they needed (Sulistiyanto 2014, p.127). Among local and central government authorities alike, personalised power relations and networks of patronage confounded rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts as the Merapi disaster was used by opportunists at all levels of government for political gain.

Michelle with children who live on Mount Merapi
Michelle with children who live on Mount Merapi

On the other hand, Indonesia’s democratic decentralization process has empowered non-governmental organisations and civil society actors to mobilise in innovative new ways in disaster preparedness, response and recovery programs. Decentralization has also paved the way for interactive learning possibilities between state and civil society actors in developing more inclusive disaster governance agendas in urban and rural contexts. For example, in and around the city of Yogyakarta a form of ‘disaster theatre’ has proliferated through ‘disaster mitigation simulations’ (simulasi mitigasi bencana) that combine state resources and expertise with local knowledge and active civil society participation. Incentivised by the chance to borrow the city’s emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks, as well as two-way radios, neighbourhood residents can collectively simulate a disaster event (for example, by lighting a bonfire on non-residential land) and practise relocating to a given evacuation site. These disaster simulations have a carnival atmosphere about them as children and adults dress in fake blood and bandages and vie to ride in emergency vehicles to the evacuation site, where a feast is shared by community residents and local state officials.

Disaster Simulation in Yogyakarta
Disaster Simulation in Yogyakarta
Disaster simulation evacuation site
Disaster simulation evacuation site
Disaster simulation_evacuation route
Disaster simulation_evacuation route

Importantly, democratic decentralization has pressured local governments in the Merapi area to become increasingly responsive to the voices of disaffected residents. After the 2010 eruption, more than 4,000 people chose to return to their rural homes in designated danger zones on the slopes of Merapi rather than participate in the government’s mandatory permanent resettlement program in nearby towns. Deprived for extended periods of basic state services such as electricity, running water and even a teacher for their school, these residents felt neglected and “like criminals”. Through a combination of media and NGO pressure as well as their own strategies of resilience and social protest, however, the Merapi residents have eventually forced a softening in local government attitudes toward them. While local government authorities are by no means uniformly supportive of these Merapi residents who stayed on the mountain, decentralization has allowed a certain flexibility to enter into state approaches to disaster governance that could translate over time into the development of more responsive policy choices.

This raises questions, then, about the extent to which democratic decentralization can facilitate greater mutual learning opportunities between official discourses and local knowledge. Can the gap be bridged between the state’s emphasis on the moment of the hazard of the volcanic eruption and community-based approaches that rely more on the longer periods in between eruptions? And, will decentralized disaster governance fundamentally realign the ways in which urban and rural residents prepare for, respond to and recover from Merapi eruptions? These are questions I hope to find answers to as I continue research in this vulnerable and incredibly resilient part of Asia.

 

Disaster simulation coordinators
Disaster simulation coordinators
Self-appointed 'disaster thief' in disaster simulation exercise
Self-appointed ‘disaster thief’ in disaster simulation exercise

References

Mahdi, Paramita (2011). Huntara Merapi. Disaster Temporary Housing. Efforts on Post-Disaster Temporary Settlements (Yogyakarta: Housing Resource Center, July).

Mei, Estuning Tyas Wulan and Lavigne, Franck (2012). ‘Influence of the institutional and socio-economic context for responding to disasters: case study of the 1994 and 2006 eruptions of the Merapi volcano, Indonesia’, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, vol.361, pp.171-86.

Miller, Michelle Ann (2013). “Decentralizing Indonesian City Spaces as New ‘Centers’”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), pp.834-848.

Sulistiyanto, Priyambudi (2014). ‘The politics of the Mount Merapi eruption in Central Java, Indonesia’ in Minako Sakai, Edwin Jurriëns, Jian Zhang and Alec Thornton, eds. Disaster Relief in the Asia Pacific: Agency and Resilience (Abingdon and New York: Routledge), pp.119-131.

Triyana, Heribertus Jaka (2013). ‘The implementation of natural disaster management program in Indonesia between 2007 and 2013’, Mimbar Hukum, 25(1), pp.102-122.

 

 

 

Cluster Achievements

Our cluster leader Mike Douglass has put together a colourful powerpoint on our cluster activities and achievements. Some excerpts:

The Cluster has three research streams — Disaster Governance, Spaces of Hope, and The Vernacular City.

Flyers of our first two CityPossible Film festivals (many more to come):

Aggregated lists of Cluster members’ achievements:

Some pointers on the way forward…

You can download the complete PPT file here.

Further information can be found on ARI’s Asian Urbanisms Cluster website. In particular, please take note of current research projects and upcoming cluster events.

Asian Urbanisms Cluster Meeting & Lunch (Wed 7 August 2013)

Thank you again to all who joined us for our cluster meeting at Bar Bar Black Sheep, Cluny Court.

Present: Mike Douglass (cluster leader), Nausheen Anwar, Tim Bunnell, Stephen Cairns, Marco Garrido, Kong Chong Ho, Yumin Joo, Peter Marolt, Michelle Miller, Rita Padawangi, Tharuka Prematillake (research assistant), Asha Rathina-Pandi, David Strand.

After welcoming the cluster members, Mike Douglass introduced the cluster’s three main research themes: Vernacular City, Disaster Governance, and Spaces of Hope. He also shared that the recent City Possible film festival was a big success, and that future festivals might include other venues to screen the films. Mike also shared the following activities:

1)  Attempting to get a tier 2 grant. Principal investigators for this would be Graig and Mike.

2)  Applications for post-doc and (senior) research fellow positions will be closed on 1 September. Afterwards, Mike will shortlist the applicants and will have a meeting with the cluster members to discuss and make decisions.

3)  In January one post-doc is expected to join the cluster from Japan. He will also assist in the upcoming conference on Disaster Governance in November 2013.

4)  Mike also mentioned that he is currently involved in some action-oriented work in Hanoi. As a result of this project, the government has stopped destroying public markets, and park users now have a voice in park planning.

The cluster members then introduced their own current research foci in turn:

Nausheen Anwar shared that she is mainly working on 2 projects:

1)  A book project for which she is preparing a book proposal, currently titled ‘Mobility, Place and Politics in Globalizing Karachi’. The book focuses on issues of migration, political brokerage, and the role of the state in planning/city making, etc.

2)  Nausheen is also the Principal Investigator of a 26-months long project funded by the International Development Research Centre and Department for International Development under the Safe and Inclusive Cities program. Her project is titled “Gender and Violence in Urban Pakistan,” and is focused on two cities: Karachi and Islamabad. The main thrust of the project is on the discursive drivers of violence, its linkages with gender and infrastructure (sanitation, water, health, transportation).  The project secured funding of Canadian $500,000 in March 2013.

Nausheen is also working on a project titled “Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema” which connects with the cluster’s broader Spaces of Hope theme. In this she is a Co-Principal Investigator. Nausheen has received SGD $5,000 from ARI and US$25,0000 from the United States Institute of Peace for this project. The project is based in Karachi and focuses on three different, ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, low-income neighbourhoods. It aims at consolidating mobile video footages taken by people on their cell phones.  The first phase was launched in June and will continue until early January 2014.  Some delays are expected due to Karachi’s law and order situation.

Stephen Cairns is currently exploring the incredible environment he is living in for a project on Protection in Urban Planning. It is a 1-to-1 prototype building project based in Jakarta and Batam.

Kong-Chong Ho is currently working on two projects. One is with HDB and the other is on livability, sustainability and spaces encountered.

David Strand recently conducted a seminar titled A” Walk in the Park: Singapore’s Green Corridor in Light of Manhattan’s High Line.” He mentioned that this project is not yet completed. Currently he is trying to make contacts with relevant people for interviews in order to understand what happened to the green corridor between 2010 until now.

Michelle Miller is currently working on two main cluster events:

1)  International conference on Disaster Governance: the Urban Transition in Asia, 7-8 November 2013.

2)  International workshop on Flooding in Urban Asia, 20 January 2014. This will be co-sponsored by the Pacific Affairs journal.

The two events are intended to widen the spectrum of networks. Michelle also mentioned that the Australian National University is planning to sign a MoU with ARI to work on disaster networks in Asia. China’s Nanjing University also intends to collaborate in the future. Mike emphasized that the word ‘governance’ is used to include civil society and suggested that the projects  are intended to bridge the humanities and social sciences.

Michelle is also continuing her work on the following projects: Decentering Nation (with Tim Bunnell), and Situating Decentralization in an Urban Milieu.

Asha Rathina-Pandi mentioned that her dissertation was on the impact of blogs and media on political activities in Malaysia. At ARI she intends to work on publications regarding the fall of the Malaysian political party and do more work on physical (urban) space. Asha will be presenting a paper on linkages between physical and online spaces for the conference titled “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” which will be held in January 2014.

Yumin Joo is an assistant professor at the LKY School of Public Policy and only recently joined ARI as an associate. Her interest is on urbanization in Asia and focuses mainly on a) urbanization (mega events), to understand what they do for secondary cities; b) (together with LKY school colleagues) Asia’s Global Cities: Mayors, Networks, and Global Status,” which compares three global cities, namely, Tokyo, Seoul and Bangkok; and c) housing policies of Korea and Singapore.

Rita Padawangi mentioned that she co-organized a workshop with Tim Bunnell and Mike Douglass on Geographies of Aspiration, held in July 2013. This was organized by ARI and the Cities Research Cluster at FASS in NUS. The purpose was to better understand how cities are constituted through geographically extended relations. Rita is planning to have a conference in July next year. She mentioned that she would now focus on publications pertaining to the cluster’s Vernacular City theme.

Tim Bunnell will be co-organizing a workshop on Friendship and the Convivial City in September. It aims at initiating a research agenda around the social and spatial configurations of friendship, which have implications for urban dwellers’ experiences of city life, and in opening up potentialities for new ways of living together with diversity. Tim is also completing his book manuscript entitled, “From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives” for the IJURR-Wiley-Blackwell book series on Studies in Urban and Social Change. He is also working on a research project (Ministry of Education, Tier 2) on “Aspirations, Urban Governance and the Remaking of Asian Cities.” Tim is the principal investigator of it and his own research is conducted in the city of Solo, Central Java, Indonesia.

Peter Marolt is currently working on a couple of projects. They include a (second) co-edited volume on Online China: locating society in online spaces (for Routledge); an edited book project on Global Insurgencies (with Mike and Rita); collaborating on the Urban Aspirations research project (PI: Tim Bunnell); an upcoming conference on “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” (with Asha). Peter is also working on a book manuscript titled Cyber China: making space for change.

Marco Garrido’s work focuses on the impact of emerging patterns of spatial inequality in Metro Manila on class relations and the political views of the urban poor and middle class. He intends to connect a spatial configuration of class interspersion with political polarization – specifically, the resurgence of populism on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of a reformist politics.

The convivial lunch meeting ended at 2.30pm.

Notes of meeting recorded by: Tharuka Prematillake

Hello world!

The Asian Urbanisms cluster explores Asia’s diverse urban experiences historically, contemporaneously, and toward the future.  It seeks to contribute to theory and applied research on the reflexivity of society-space relationships in the built environment and city life from local to global scales, in diverse contexts in Asia, and through comparative studies with other world regions.  The orientation of the cluster is towards research that speaks in transformative ways to urban-related theories, debates and public policy issues in and beyond Asia.  Avenues for research include (but are not limited to): livable cities past, present and future with regard to vernacular urban heritages, modernization and globalization; urban discontents, insurgencies in cities and through social media, and spaces of hope through participatory city-making; and disaster governance in an age of urban transitions and global climate change. AUC is developing three themes that will serve to organize research, grant proposals, workshops and conferences, publications, and related events and activities. The three themes are:

Disaster Governance.  The intention is to bring social sciences, arts and humanities, and physical/technology sciences together to make Singapore a hub in Asia for research and training on disaster prevention, adaptation and humanitarian assistance.  The term “governance” is adopted to give emphasis to public involvement in all aspects of research and practice related to natural disasters.  With its rich history of transdisciplinary research on key dimensions of disaster governance in Southeast Asia, ARI is well position to be the center of this activity.  Asia’s urban transition that is focusing on very large urban regions, most of which are located in disaster-prone coastal regions, brings to the fore the Importance of AUC research on disaster governance.

Urban Heritage and the Vernacular City.  This theme brings AUC together with other NUS programs such as SDE that are concerned with culture-built environment interdependencies in cities.  The term vernacular city is used to direct attention to both historically inherited urban structures and living culture as they are expressed through place-making and local production of urban spaces by people who reside in the city.  This research theme seeks to make international linkages with organizations in and beyond Singapore that are doing similar research, such as the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS).

Spaces of Hope. This theme covers a wide range of research on social mobilization, the rise of civil society, discontents, and insurgencies.  It also includes cyber-activism.  Most of these activities take place in cities and can be seen emerging with the rise of urban middle and working classes, communications technologies, and political change.  It reaches beyond protest to consider projects to create alternative urban spaces.  It also links with such issues as citizenship, transnational migration, multicultural societies, liveable cities, and the right to the city.