"Natural Disasters and Global Responsibility": "If That Happens, We Must All Prepare for the Worst," Pres. Yudhoyono
"The corporate world can all be proud for being part of this emerging global solidarity, which we all hope would be the seed of a better world to come. Someone asked me if we plan to erect a tsunami monument in Aceh. A good idea, and we are working on it," said President Yudhoyono at the APEC CEO Summit in Busan on Nov. 17, 2005.
The following are excerpts from a paper, "Natural Disasters and Global Responsibility," made in a keynote address by Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the Republic of Indonesia, at the APEC CEO Summit Busan, South Korea, on Nov. 17, 2005. - Ed.
Mother nature is the source of our livelihood, our precious home, humanity's greatest asset. But mother nature can also unleash, in so many ways and means, the most destructive and deadly force known to man. This year, mother nature has been particularly deadly to humanity. In the past 11 months, mother nature has killed more people than man-made conflicts and wars and terrorism combined. This year, according to one estimate, terrorists killed around 5,000 people. 20 times more people died in Pakistan alone during the recent earthquake. During the months, mother nature has unleashed her deadly assault on world communities in at least four major events. The first one, and the biggest one, occurred at the end of last year, not long after your APEC CEO Summit in Santiago, Chile. It was the day after Christmas. A major earthquake occurred at sea near the Island of Sumatra, causing giant tsunami killer waves around the Indian Ocean with a force of destruction never before seen in history. I will never forget that day. I was in Papua, which ironically had also been hit by an earthquake. At around noon, I received a sketchy report of another big earthquake in Aceh. The death toll was around 60. We scrambled for more information, and the news kept getting worse. By evening, death estimates went up to 600. When I arrived in Aceh the next day, it was in the thousands. And then quickly to tens of thousands. At the last count, it was 126,000 dead and 93,000 missing, presumed dead, and more than half a million people became homeless. All of this, in a matter of minutes. Just imagine: how do you deal with the tragic death of over 200,000 fellow citizens in a matter of minutes? That tsunami totally paralyzed Aceh and Nias, and totally consumed my government's attention for the following weeks. Food supplies, economic activities, transportation, infrastructure, communication, cellular lines, schools, electricity, focal government, oil depots all were destroyed. The material loss was estimated to equal 97% of Aceh's GDP. People who flew from Banda Aceh to Meulaboh would see that hundreds of communities who lived near the sea were totally wiped out without a trace. One observer said it was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on western Aceh. Even if we prepared all our lives for disasters, it would not prepare us for this disaster, it was the darkest moment in the history of the Indonesian people.
The second major attack occurred after Aceh was slowly getting back on its feet. This time it chose as its target the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, the world's only superpower. A nasty Hurricane called Katrina demolished Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. When Katrina was done, she left behind thousands dead, over a million people homeless, and over US$130 billion of materials losses. We all have seen the horrible, heart wrenching images of American families and communities in desperation. We all remember the surreal photos of New Orleans swamped with water, and our hearts go the tens of thousands of homeless people at the Dome whose lives were ruined by Katrina. While the United States was dealing with Katrina's mess, the third major attack came in another part of the world. A big earthquake, 7.6 on a Richter scale, hit the unsuspecting people of Pakistan. Over 80,000 people were killed, and 3.3 million people lost their homes. No words could describe the suffering experienced by the people of Pakistan, and as we speak today, international rescue efforts are continuing. There is a fourth attack by mother nature. Unlike the giant tsunami or the magnificent Katrina, this particular enemy is too small to be seen by the eye. It also has a strange, unthreatening name: H5N1. It is known as the avian flu virus. It is a smart and cunning enemy, because it has the ability to mutate, to change form. This vicious enemy has killed many people before. In 1918, the Spanish flu, as it is called, killed between 20 to 50 million people. In the 1950's and the 1960's, other strains of the virus, the Hong Kong flu and Asian flu, became a pandemic that killed millions. We are seeing cases of avian flu, transmitted from birds, in many places: in Indonesia, Viet Nam, China, Thailand, Turkey, Romania, Greece. Our worst nightmare now would be if the avian flu virus finds a way to mutate by swapping human genetic code, which would allow human to human transmission. IF, and this is a big IF, that happens, we must all prepare for the worst, much worse than the tsunami, Katrina or the Pakistani earthquake. The tsunami attacked for only several minutes, but it went away immediately, and the death toll stopped. A pandemic would not stop after its first attack. It would continue to spread, infect, and kill, in a way that is very difficult to contain. We cannot even begin to imagine the number of people that would be killed: estimates run in the millions, if not tens of millions. And the impact on our economies would be catastrophic: transportation, tourism, trade, investment manufacture, agriculture, consumer confidence, all would be severely affected. A recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that a pandemic could possibly lead to world recession, where "growth in Asia would virtually stop", and the global trade of goods and services could contract by 14%, the equivalent of US$2.5 trillion. None of us can afford this. So, there you have it. Four major attacks by nature, in different ways and forms. Their combined death tolls alone would reaffirm that natural disasters this year pose the most serious threat to the physical security of humans living on this planet. And they all have something in common: they make us feel helpless in desperation. Like terrorism, any one of us, anywhere, anytime can be at risk by the threat of natural disasters. These disastrous natural events compel us to rethink and redefine the concept of security. No invading army could have done what the tsunami did in Aceh. The Indonesian military and police lost more men and women to the tsunami than they did in conventional operations that year. And we had to learn and improvise on how to tackle a crisis of this magnitude. This means that our militaries must increase their capacity for "military operations other than war." The tsunami emergency relief operations in Aceh and Nias was perhaps the largest humanitarian operation ever taken in the region. The cooperation which evolved was a very significant confidence builder to all the military contingents that took part it. As a military general, I was very proud to see all these military contingents from all over the world working together not for war but to save lives, and they did so without firing a single bullet.
The fight against a virus also requires us to readjust our security mindset. When you fight for ideology, territory, or natural resources, you can be locked in a conflict with one another. But the fight against a virus turns everybody into allies. This is because if one person is at risk, all are at risk. The virus has no respect for your nationality, religion and money. It just wants to live by killing your cells. You defeat the virus not with a gun, but with medical science. It is a race against time where we always have to know the genetic evolvement of the virus so that we can develop a vaccine for it. With all this, it is clear that we need to account for natural disasters into our present and future equation of security and prosperity. But notwithstanding the awesome power of these disasters, I think the most phenomenal event of the year was the global solidarity that emerged out of it. I remember calling for "global solidarity" from Meulaboh, the town worst hit by the tsunami. But I was simply astonished to see the level of attention that we received worldwide. The tsunami produced an unprecedented act of global compassion. Governments sent their assistance, school children sent their savings, doctors volunteered to help, companies sent their contributions, average citizens reached into their pocketbooks. Everybody everywhere got into the act of caring and contributing. In many countries, contributions from civil society matched if not exceeded those from governments. This was something new in international relations, and the course of humanity. But we cannot allow this precious reservoir of global goodwill to evaporate. In Aceh, the tsunami suffering stimulated a political process which resulted in a peace deal which ended the long-standing bloody conflict in Aceh. This peace deal was signed by my Government and the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement in Helsinki, on August 15, this year. It achieved what we hope would be a permanent peace with dignity in Aceh based on special autonomy, and an effective end to conflict, hostilities and violence. It is God's miracle that Aceh today is not only recovering from the tsunami, but also a place where the guns are now silent and the rebels have come down from the hills to rejoin society. But that was only at a local scale. This global goodwill can achieve a great deal more if we harness it in the right way. This sense that all of us are in this together, this feeling of great compassion for others, the sense of belonging to a common future can bring us far. It can even fuel the global community's efforts to reach the targets of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, a gigantic project of humanity which, like our tsunami cooperation, requires a great deal of compassion, solidarity, goodwill and cooperation. Next month, we in Indonesia will commemorate the first year of the tsunami. It will be a remembrance of those who died, an occasion to honor those who served, and a chance to say thank you to all. It will also be a chance for the world to see how Aceh is getting back on its feet. The local government is functioning, families are being reunited, homes are being rebuilt, roads are being reconnected, and the economy is moving again. A great deal of work needs to be done still, especially in building the houses for the half a million tsunami homeless, and we are pressing on with that urgent task.
This is where I express my commendation to all of you in the corporate world who have cared and contributed generously to those who have suffered. Last year, at this very forum, I remember speaking and calling for corporate social responsibility. In the past year, you have done much to help others in need, contributing time, energy, resources and know-how to the victims of natural disasters. Your contributions, in money and in kind, have been invaluable to the reconstruction efforts now underway in Aceh, Nias and around the Indian Ocean. We are counting on your active role in the global efforts to prevent an avian flu pandemic, which would be disastrous to the regional and world economy. There is much that you can do to help us: to provide medical and surveillance equipments, to supply medicines, and, most importantly, to find the vaccine for the avian flu, and also vaccines for future infectious diseases not yet known to us now. The corporate world can all be proud for being part of this emerging global solidarity, which we all hope would be the seed of a better world to come. Someone asked me if we plan to erect a tsunami monument in Aceh. A good idea, and we are working on it. But I tell you this: a great monument is already erect in Aceh. You see it in the children who are playing at the beach again, you see it in the orphaned kids who lost everything but are returning to school, in the fishermen who are reclaiming their boats to go out to the sea, and in mosques where they praise the greatness of God. This living reality, I believe, is the true monument of hope. It is stronger than any brick walls. And ultimately, these incredible survivors represent the glory of humanity and global solidarity against the curse of nature.