[JAKARTA] Research and preparedness activities at Aceh's tsunami research centre are in jeopardy as it fast runs out of cash following the scheduled pull out of international donors.
The Indonesian government has not yet agreed to bridge the resulting funding gap of US$400,000 a year to keep the centre running, leaving its future up in the air and its 40 scientists unpaid for months, according to the centre's director.
Foreign donors invested heavily in tsunami research following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 60,000 people in Aceh province alone — a fifth of the population.
- The research centre has been surviving on just US$20,000 since June 2012, unable to pay its staff
- International donors pulled out of funding the centre as scheduled
- The Indonesian government failed to plan for the funding gap of US$400,000 a year, say critics
The Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center (TDMRC) was built in 2008 as part of the US$655 million Multi Donor Fund (MDF) for Aceh pooled together by 15 donors including the European Union and World Bank.
The centre's mission is to carry out disaster research, support advocacy in policymaking and speed up data collection to mitigate the impact of future disasters.
Projects include helping local governments and agencies to make preparedness plans. For example, one effort has led to a detailed computer simulation of tsunami evacuation for six high-risk populated areas in Aceh and similar simulations for two cities in Java are on the way, Yudha Nurdin, a researcher at the centre says.
The donors appointed the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Indonesia as trustee of the MDF, when it ran dry in June 2012.
Since then the TDMRC has been operating on a budget of just US$20,000, most of which has been used to pay utility bills, its director Muhammad Dirhamsyah tells SciDev.Net.
UNDP spokesperson Tomi Soetjipto says: "The TDMRC has the potential to succeed," but declined to comment further on the challenges facing the centre.
In just four years, the centre has produced a detailed map of disaster risk in Aceh; developed a series of computer simulations to monitor evacuation effectiveness in the event of a tsunami; and trained 140 graduate students. It also houses a tsunami evacuation shelter.
The centre's plans include building a web-based disaster risk management information system and further awareness-raising campaigns for school students.
But all these plans may have to be put on hold, Dirhamsyah says.
Despite sending several proposals for local and foreign funding, the only commitment so far — of US$100,000 — has come from the national government through the Ministry of National Development Planning to fund the disaster information system. Bank Indonesia is considering covering some of the costs of the awareness campaign for students.
Soetjipto points out that the government had years to prepare for the eventual ending of donations.
"They failed to prepare this centre to deal with transition, particularly how to manage assets and budgets during that period," says Gegar Prasetya, tsunami expert and UNDP consultant.
Gegar adds that the centre has made a great deal of progress in terms of research, networking and training a new generation of tsunami experts.
Indonesia needs at least 2,000 knowledgeable workers for its disaster management authorities, he says, "and the centre is a strong scientific foundation to prepare the second generation of young tsunami scientists".
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.