“A Supermarket of Disaster” and a Thanking of Two Special People

Rev. Bonnie Carenen is a former Week of Compassion Intern now working with Church World Service in Indonesia. She wrote this update last week, following a number of disasters that hit the country she currently calls home:

Indonesia is sometimes called a "supermarket of disaster" because tectonic activity under the ocean floor regularly causes earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Other disasters that affect this tropical archipelago are climate change, environmental degradation, and pollution.

In under-developed rural areas, rain and harvest patterns are changing faster than subsistence farmers can adapt. Vast agricultural areas experience drought and flooding that wipe out crops and livestock.

Meanwhile, the urban megatropolis of Jakarta is saturated with 20 million vehicles on roads that have not been adequately expanded in forty years. Citywide, drainage and sewage systems are 80% clogged with trash and debris like plastic bags, plastic water bottles and food wrappers, so that when it rains, many parts of the city flood--paralyzing the city's transportation grid.

If Indonesia is a supermarket of disaster, last week featured a "four day special."

Monday evening the capital city of Jakarta ground to a halt. Unusually heavy rains inundated the city's gutters and sewers and clogged traffic routes with muddy water, rubbish, and raw sewage. Hundreds of thousands of people were trapped on the roadways, with traffic at a dead standstill for up to six hours or more. Experts estimate that traffic and flooding problems like these cost the city more than three billion US dollars per year.

Boats ferry medicines to the tsunami-hit Pagai islands. Photo by ACT/YEU/Agnes DewiTuesday evening a 7.7 RS earthquake and subsequent tsunami affected the small Indonesian island community of Mentawai. The quake occurred around 9 p.m. when most residents had already gone to bed. Lacking telecommunications or electricity in this part of Indonesia, an early warning system was not in place and currently, is not even possible. The 12-foot high tsunami led to an estimated 500 deaths. The Indonesian government and many NGOs (such as where I work, Church World Service) have been very quick to respond with relief aid and a commitment to long-term recovery efforts.

On Wednesday and again on Thursday, Indonesia's-and the world's-most active volcano, Mt. Merapi, erupted outside the city of Yogjakarta in central Java. It continued to erupt throughout the weekend. Fifty thousand people evacuated and 34 people died in the eruption. Seismologists suggest that the tsunami-triggering earthquake in Mentawai and the eruption of Mt. Merapi are connected, since they occurred along the same under-ocean tectonic fault lines. Sulphuric fumes fill the air. Otherwise the affected area looks startlingly like a winter wonderland, as "ash rain" has settled and coated everything with inches of thin, white soot.

Another disaster, not as widely publicized and not as new, has occurred on the far eastern end of Indonesia on the island of Papua. Rampant and devastating flooding in the area of Wasior, precipitated primarily by clear-cut logging and mountaintop removal mining practices, have degraded and eroded the topsoil. Floods are common and increasingly destructive.

YEU staff unload relief goods in Kemalang, Central Java. Photo by ACT/YEU/Didik RiyantoIndonesians acknowledge that tremendous natural resources that promote life in Indonesia and give it an international profile exist because of the nutrient-rich volcanic soil. (This is, after all, the home of the isle of Java, famous for its coffee, and the historic Spice Islands of colonial lore.) Indonesians' bane of existing right along the Pacific Ring of Fire is also its blessing in promoting life and abundance for people here and all over the world.

Indonesians also acknowledge the growing pangs and pitfalls of developing into a modern, democratic state. While many parts of Indonesia remain impoverished, urban centers like Jakarta are pulsing hubs of technology, industry, and capital. Indonesia's government and citizens are compelled to witness and respond to a widening gap between the richest and the poorest, a responsibility that many governments and citizens in the West have willfully ignored or denied.

Indonesians also take religious conviction and community very seriously. They ask deeply religious questions when interpreting why disasters happen and deciding how to respond. In the world's most populous Muslim nation, religious authority, spiritual practices, and moral truths maintain a high cultural value. When disasters happen, the multiple and interfaith religious communities and the nation are able to rely on this strong backbone of their respect for and commitment to religious traditions. They come together to attend especially to the injured, poor, orphans, and widows. Acknowledging the contributions of religious communities in a country that is prone to disaster, both natural and human-made, is a powerful step in identifying and pursuing responsible responses.

Writing from a "supermarket of disaster" in Indonesia to congregations in North America who are consumers and producers of courageous compassion, I am grateful to witness and share the wisdom of Indonesians with others who witness and share the pain of loss, and the transformative power of gracious generosity.

Rev. Bonnie K. Carenen
Church World Service Indonesia
29 October 2010

Thank You, Carl and Robin

As many of you may know, Carl and Robin Zerweck ended their ministry with Disciples Volunteering in October. Over the past several years, the Zerwecks were fabulous partners with Week of Compassion, putting their hearts and souls into the Disciples Hurricane Recovery Initiative and many other projects that have helped communities recovering from disaster.

We are so grateful for the Zerwecks’ ministries of courage and compassion, and wish them the best as they tackle the next chapter in their life. Thanks, Robin and Carl, for all you have done and for all that you are!

We are grateful for all of those with whom we partner all over the world and all over the country. We could not be present as a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), if it weren’t for partners like Bonnie, Carl, Robin, and you! If you would like to contribute to our efforts in Indonesia, or perhaps contribute to future domestic disaster responses by giving a gift in celebration of Robin and Carl’s ministry, please visit here.