Indonesia’s cities need to be made more resilient to minimise the loss of life, damage to infrastructure and economic impact caused by urban flooding

Indonesia has experienced more than 60 flood disasters over the past 10 years, which makes it one of the most flood-prone countries in South-East Asia.

And, as global relationship leader at Zurich Asia Pacific Steve Robertson told StrategicRISK, almost every province in Indonesia is exposed to flooding. “Floods have become a major risk in the country’s big cities,” he added.

Besides high rain fall, which can reach up to 3000mm a year, other challenges contributing to urban flooding in Indonesia include inadequate drainage systems, urban migration and lower water absorption areas due to housing and industrial expansion, Robertson said.

“Almost all of Indonesia’s major cities are located in low-lying coastal areas, where rivers flow down from the mountainous centre of the islands bringing vast quantities of water straight into the cities,” he said.

Robertson spoke to SR on the eve of the publication of research on flood resilience, produced by the Z Zurich Foundation in collaboration with the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The study highlights how mass urbanisation and climate change will worsen the impact of floods. It also reveals that in the past two decades, nearly 90% of aid spending has gone towards emergency response, reconstruction and rehabilitation, rather than risk mitigation.

The report proposes a new framework to measure the ability of communities to withstand floods and assess the best use of capital to improve resilience. The framework is designed to help quantify the success of flood resilience efforts and demonstrate the benefits of pre-event risk reduction, as opposed to post-event disaster relief.

Zurich is testing this framework by collecting data in countries prone to flooding such as Indonesia. It is hoped that this data will help to identify the best flood resilience strategies in communities around the world.

Disaster risk reduction

Robertson said that Zurich and the Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia, or PMI) had signed a memorandum of cooperation in the field of community-based flood disaster risk reduction.

“The agreement, covering a five-year commitment with a total budget of up to approximately $5.5million, aims to enhance flood resilience by finding innovative ways to enhance the effectiveness of disaster risk reduction solutions,” he said.

“It also aims to develop and promote knowledge and expertise around floods, as well as influence policy makers and donors on disaster risk reduction policies.”

Zurich launched a global flood resilience program in 2013. The program aims to advance knowledge, develop robust expertise and design strategies that can be implemented to help communities in developed and developing countries strengthen their resilience to flood risk.

“It seeks to improve the public dialogue around flood resilience, while measuring the success of our efforts and demonstrating the benefits of pre-event risk reduction, as opposed to post-event disaster relief,” Robertson said.