Indonesia Earthquake Takes a Heavy Toll on Children

Like most children across Indonesia, 4-year-old Dewi Hani often spends the afternoon studying at an Islamic school. She learned to write the Arabic alphabet in a notebook she kept inside her blue backpack, along with a pencil and a Quran.

This Monday afternoon is no different – until the time when a magnitude 5.6 earthquake leveled structures in the area. Hani was one of five students killed when her two-story Islamic school collapsed in a village a few dozen miles from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Hani’s mother, Neng Didah, 34, rushed to the school and saw the second floor of the school lying on the ground. The first floor – where her daughter studied – was gone.

“I suddenly felt weak,” Ms. Neng said Thursday in the village of Sarampad. “I heard voices calling ‘Mom, mom, mom,’ but I didn’t recognize any of them.”

The official death toll from the earthquake, which attack a mountainous area of the country’s main island, Java, was 272 as of Thursday. That could be a significant shortcoming. Officials made it clear that about a third of those killed were children, many trapped in dilapidated homes or schools.

The extent of structural damage has drawn attention to what experts say is a persistent problem in Indonesia: the stark disparity between construction quality in urban and rural areas.

Elisa Sutanudjaja, executive director at Rujak Urban Research Center, said: “Although Indonesia has building codes, they are “difficult to enforce and lack oversight and enforcement from the government, especially in in rural areas”. hospital in Jakarta.

Large and small earthquakes occur almost daily in Indonesia, a country of about 270 million people located at the meeting point of several tectonic plates and along a volcanic arc and fault line. The devastation from strong earthquakes has been exacerbated by landslides caused by deforestation, small-scale mining and urban development.

“All of them will get worse, because climate change will make them worse,” said Benjamin P. Horton, director of the Singapore Earth Observatory.

Major earthquakes have added urgency to efforts to raise construction quality across Indonesia to standards that make homes and other buildings earthquake-resistant without collapsing. But recent earthquakes have exposed a large gap between urban and rural building standards.

In one example, the destruction of buildings after an earthquake occurred Lombok island 2018 mainly due to “inconsistent design”, including non-compliance with regulations on structural reinforcement, According to a July study Indonesian building codes.

Kerry Sieh, a seismologist who has studied Indonesia, says that government offices, hotels and other large buildings, especially in Jakarta, have been included in the rules and will be very safe in the open spaces. earthquake.

But one- or two-story buildings are more common across the country outside of cities, he said. Many structures are built with too little reinforcement and poor quality concrete, and they tend to collapse when earthquakes shake them.

Indonesia’s national building codes are mostly adapted from those of New Zealand and the United States. Cities are required to create their own codes, along with disaster risk assessments and spatial planning regulations.

Only about 30 per cent of them come up with their own building codes, and many have rules that are unable to enforce them because of a lack of funding and personnel, or geographical challenges, Ms. Sutanudjaja said. In rural areas, many houses are built by occupants and the quality of construction depends on their socioeconomic situation, she added.

“Oftentimes, even in a big city like Jakarta, the planning document does not correspond to the risk assessment,” she said. “So basically, many settlements are already hot spots for the next natural disaster, such as an earthquake.”

The earthquake that hit Java on Monday focused its strength on Cianjur Regency, an agricultural region south of Jakarta.

According to Ms. Sutanudjaja, if the brick and concrete structure where Hani died was funded by the government, then its contractor would have to comply with national building codes. Because it is privately funded, it must instead comply with local rules that were implemented in 2013.

Komariah, an official in a government district who has only one name, said that many people in the area build on mountainous terrain and cannot afford the materials that make their structures safer.

According to Muhammad Yusuf Supriatna, a volunteer teacher whose family owns the school, Hani’s Islamic school, known as madrasa, has undergone three stages of construction. In 1997, it was built as a single-story structure, 13 by 30 feet tall. By 2006, he said, its size had grown to 20 x 41 feet. And in 2016, a second story was added, funded by a $7,000 donation from an investor in the Middle East.

“We built this madrasa ourselves with the help of our neighbors,” he said. “We don’t have a building permit, but I consulted with a friend who is a construction expert.”

For a quarter of a century, madrasa has withstood earthquakes without cracking. But the explosion that happened on Monday afternoon overturned the second story, killing Hani and three other girls, ages 6, 7, and 12, as well as a 10-year-old boy. Three other children were injured.

Hani is a quiet, obedient child who is learning to write numbers and recognize the letters of the alphabet, her mother, Neng, said in an emotional interview. Her favorite doll is Hello Kitty, and she loves to eat rice with both salt and soy sauce.

When Hani left the house on Monday, Neng was busy frying potatoes for her husband, a street vendor. She stopped to help zip up the girl’s black dress and fix her hijab, and gave her about 13 cents of pocket money.

When the earthquake struck, Mrs. Neng and her husband focused on helping an elderly neighbor. But after a few minutes, her husband started shouting: “Hani, where is Hani?”

They run to Hani’s madrasa and panic to see that its second floor has collapsed. Other children were crawling out through a small hole under the rubble. A teacher told them not to worry.

Mrs. Neng called out Hani’s name for a long time, but she couldn’t stand it. Officials eventually moved the couple to a nearby evacuation tent, where they would be safer from the aftershocks of the quake.

“In the tent, I kept praying, asking God to save her,” she said. “But God didn’t save her.”

Hani’s body was discovered around 12:30 a.m. and she was buried 9 hours later in a white shroud, according to Muslim funeral custom.


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