Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Friday, 17 June 2011 11:50 UK

Overcoming catastrophe, rebuilding a community

Dewi Safitri
BBC Indonesian Service

Ginaryo a ceramicist with the pots in his workshop
Ceramicist Ginaryo in his workshop

The five-foot tall ceramic jug stands almost as high as its maker, Ginaryo. He's been religiously rubbing the surface with a dry cloth for half an hour and he's not done yet.

He needs to make it what he calls "vintage shiny" to meet the strict demands of his customer in France.

"I have this and these are ready to be shipped to Malaysia and France," explains the 48-year-old ceramicist with a smile of pride, pointing to rows of antique-looking jugs.

Ginaryo's volume of overseas sales has yet to reach the level they were at before the 2006 earthquake, but he is hopeful that there is progress in the right direction.

The earthquake that struck the island of Java measured 5.9 on the Richter scale and damaged the city of Yogyakarta and its surrounding towns. The disaster killed over 5,700 people and injured thousands more. Five years on, residents like Ginaryo are finally catching up with normality.

A house devastated by the 2006 earthquake
Many homes were not built to withstand an earthquake

The artist reminisces about the good old days before the earthquake shattered his business: "I used to send containers packed with china or ceramics to Australia, the Netherlands, Spain."

When the earthquake occurred he had just loaded up a truck with new ceramic samples, due to be mass produced for overseas orders. Instead, he lost everything. He offers a thin smile. "What chances my ceramics had against the quake? Well, I got three small vases left intact."

A hard lesson

Five years after the disaster there is almost no visible sign of the destruction, thanks to the community's rapid redevelopment initiative.

The Indonesian government gave a grant of IDR 15 million ($1,700) for each house wrecked by the quake, and left the community to take charge of the rebuilding process.

This turned out to be the right strategy in Yogyakarta, where a strong sense of community rules daily activities. "We help each other out - today we rebuild my house, next week the neighbour's house," says Ginaryo.

According to scientists, an earthquake of this magnitude should not have resulted in so many victims, nor in so much damage, but most residents did not understand the importance of standard earthquake-resistant housing.

"We help each other out - today we rebuild my house, next week the neighbour's house,"

Ahmad Farid, a primary school teacher in Wanalela, learned this the hard way. His house was destroyed because the iron frames which supported the foundations were not strong enough.

"When it struck, I was in a shock and my mind stopped working. I had a young toddler inside the house and I barely missed the wall collapsing over my child's head," said Farid. Luckily, his son survived the ordeal.

Farid now knows the basics of survival. "The simplest sign to a fatal quake is when a hanging picture falls off on its own. Should the quake happen again, I know now that I should be the one to usher out the children, while my wife secures the door".

Farid thanks local activitists for his new-found knowledge on how to survive a disaster. Being a part-time Islamic preacher, he hopes to share these tips with his pupils and others in the wider community. He says he weaves in these messages of earthquake safety while preaching Islamic values to women from the village who study with him.

Learning to cope

Indonesia is no stranger to natural disasters. According to The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics agency, an average of six earthquakes a day, of varying degrees, occur in Indonesia.

5,749 people killed
38,000 people injured
Almost 1.2 million people left homeless

This is in addition to other disasters - last year alone Yogyakarta was hit by deadly volcanic eruptions, landslides and floods. Compared to other regions in Indonesia, however, Yogyakarta now fares better in terms of coping with disasters.

"Yogyakarta is different from others because it has a strong basis of non-governmental system," said Djuni Pristiyanto, a disaster awareness activist.

Pristiyanto says that the city is "lucky" because it has a civil society network sufficient to support both the work for the disaster reduction campaign and the post-disaster recovery.

With a strong education system, Yogyakarta has a number of organisations involved in disaster risk awareness. "They bridge the gap between government and public, and most of time, they can break away from bureaucracy" comments Pristiyanto.

"I think they are amazing," says Ahmad Farid. "I was in shock and trauma for a long time. They taught me that the key to facing disaster is actually easy and simple".

Many other disaster-torn areas, said Pristiyanto, aren't so fortunate. "Hence progress [is] very much determined by the sheer political will of the government."

A group of people helping each other after the earthquake
A strong sense of community helped Yogyakarta to recover

According to Pristiyanto, other disaster-struck areas, such as Papua and the Mentawai islands, which were hit by tsunamis recently, have unclear post-reconstruction programmes and are not supported by strong local governments.

Despite Pristiyanto's fears, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has said that international communities should follow in the Indonesian government's footsteps "promoting awareness on disaster risk reduction and applying them to effective national policy".

In May, the UN awarded Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with the title Global Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction 2011.

Wawan Andriyanto, an activist with YP2SU, a foundation that has campaigned for disaster reduction in Yogyakarta since 2005, comments, "The true test should be, when disaster strikes, do you still have people die or not?". Andriyanto's foundation has been working alongside villagers in Wanalela, Bantul, but his work has a long way to go.

Last year at least 160 people were killed when Mt Merapi near Yogyakarta erupted. Despite warnings from officials to evacuate, many residents refused to leave until it was too late.

"We miscalculated the catastrophe and that brought fatal consequences. It shouldn't happen again" says Andriyanto.

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