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Cordaid NL
Resilience Indonesia

Climate and disaster resilience in Indonesia
“We have made our mark”

Cordaid has phased out its climate and disaster resilience projects in Indonesia. Time for aid coordinator Yohan Santosa to look back, as well as ahead. “We have made our mark. Cordaid contributed to Jakarta’s 2018-2030 climate change adaptation policy. And the emergency response partners we trained now operate successfully as a network.”

In the past decade, Cordaid’s efforts in Indonesia focused heavily on increasing people’s abilities to adapt to climate change and to bounce back during and after natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. And whenever needed, like in Sulawesi in 2018, in Lombok the same year, or Aceh in December 2016, Cordaid supported Indonesian relief organisations’ emergency responses.

The recent earthquake in Sulawesi is yet another reminder of how beleaguered the country is when it comes to catastrophes.

Nevertheless, per January 2021, Cordaid has phased out its disaster risk reduction and resilience programmes in Indonesia – work that was done in close alliance with Partner for Resilience. The main reason for this is the strategic choice to operate more in conflict-affected parts of the world that appear higher on the fragility index. But this will not keep us from providing humanitarian assistance in Indonesia when needed and called upon.

“Over the years we succeeded better in connecting and integrating our operations.”

Since 2014, Yohan Santosa was Cordaid’s key person in Indonesia. Based in Yogyakarta, he coordinated our responses and projects in Aceh, Sulawesi, Jakarta, Timor, East Nusa Tenggara, and other parts of the immense Indonesian archipelago. From Yogyakarta, he looks back on his years with Cordaid.

What stands out for you, in terms of achievements?

The fact that the Emergency Response Capacity Building Network will continue to play an important humanitarian role on a national level, even now that Cordaid is retreating. We have trained many of the Indonesian member organisations in increasing their response capacities and supported them in forging this network. They first acted as a humanitarian network after the 2016 earthquake in Aceh, and have stepped up their efforts ever since, in assisting communities, in raising funds, and in advocating for better emergency response policies. Today, they are a strong mid-size player in Indonesia. And I believe they will grow bigger in the future. Without Cordaid the ERCB network, consisting of Bina Swadaya, Caritas Indonesia, Pusaka, and others, would not exist.

Is this an example of localising humanitarian aid?

It is. Not a perfect example, but a good one. The ERCB is a network of national NGOs. They, in turn, work closely with more grassroots level organisations. On that level, the operational and response capacities are still minimal. Cordaid as an INGO is now stepping back, and national ERCB members will need to strengthen the smaller aid organisations, who often stand in the humanitarian frontline.

Any other successes that come to mind?

There are many. Over the years we succeeded better in connecting and integrating our operations. Our Partners for Resilience alliance, as well as Anat Prag, Cordaid’s former Country Director in The Philippines with whom I collaborated closely, were instrumental in this. In Central Sulawesi, for example, we aligned our humanitarian efforts with our resilience and advocacy programs. Saving lives went hand in hand with increasing people’s livelihoods as well as our advocacy and policy influencing activities.

In Marunda, one of the poorest parts of northern Jakarta, environmental degradation has led to severe drinking water shortages. One of Cordaid’s climate resilience measures was the Rainwater Electrolysis project. Families were trained in how to turn rainwater into safe drinking water by using a cheap and efficient electrolysis tool. The picture shows trainer Setawijaya explaining to a group of women how it works.

Disaster risk reduction, securing livelihoods, promoting gender equality, and climate adaptation are all connected. We tried and sometimes succeeded in integrating these aspects. More recently, we adapted and integrated a Covid-19 response into our health system strengthening work. Creating a web of interlinked efforts, creating networks – also with the private sector, showing flexibility and adaptivity… I think we managed to do that.

Can you give an example that shows the interconnection of gender equality and livelihood?

Take the farmers in East Nusa Tenggara. We supported them in improving their vegetable production and in adapting to climate change. This was successful to a large degree because of the gender equality component of the programme. As long as female farmers are the only ones to have a double load, taking care of the kids, and providing an income, there’s inequality. By sharing roles and responsibilities communities not only counter inequality but also improve people’s livelihood and strengthen their capacities to address climate change.

Climate change adaptation was key in a lot of our resilience projects. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Marunda, one of the poorest areas of the Jakarta urban area, comes first to mind. As you know, Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. And the people in Marunda, living in flooded slums, are the first to feel the consequences of this. From 2015 onwards, we supported them in introducing and improving urban organic farming, rainwater harvesting, and waste management techniques.

“I still teach and train, not in classrooms any longer, but in disaster areas.”

We didn’t solve the flooding – hopefully the big sea wall project will not only protect Jakarta’s rich but also the people of Marunda – but we did manage to increase food and water security in a sustainable way. And to assist communities in turning the waste that floats everywhere into either organic fertilizer or non-organic sources of income.

Yohan Santosa during the Vegetable Harvesting and Expo in Timor Tengah Selatan district, in 2017. The event was part of a farmer capacity building project funded by Cordaid and the Anton Jurgen Fonds.

Our climate-smart agriculture programme in Timor, the island in East Nusa Tenggara, is another example. With farming communities, we developed and implemented techniques to recharge, retain and reuse rainwater.

You mentioned the giant Sea Wall project in Jakarta. It is one example of how this sinking metropolis is trying to address climate change. The city also called upon Cordaid to contribute to its 2018-2030 climate change policies. How did that come about?

Our bottom-up work with the Marunda communities gained the attention of the Jakarta Deputy Governor of Spatial and Environment. The Jakarta government was impressed by the community-based and climate-smart approach in the slums of the city and invited us to contribute to Jakarta’s Urban Farming Grand Design 2018-2030 to address climate change and food security.

“Big disasters are the scenes of extreme hardship, grief, and resilience. But they also mean big business. This is inevitable if you need to reach out and provide life-saving assistance to thousands of people. At all times, you need to make sure that as much money as possible goes to those who need it most.”

We started doing this in 2017 and Cordaid’s Marunda approach and our learnings are now integrated into the city’s long-term urban farming policy for climate change adaptation. It shows how our work with and amidst some of the hardest-hit communities was a solid basis to influence policymaking on the highest levels.

Cordaid has a history in Indonesia. Apart from our emergency responses, we focused on disaster resilience and risk reduction in the past decade, and microfinance and other forms of support even before that. Cordaid decided to end our structural development projects as of this year. Is it the right decision at the right time?

Cordaid took the decision carefully. It chooses to operate in the most fragile, conflict-prone parts of the world. Indonesia, a middle-income country, ranks in the lower half of the world’s fragility index. The decision makes sense. But poverty is still rampant in a lot of communities. And I do hope Cordaid will remain in touch with Indonesia. Not as an implementing agency, structural donor, or capacity builder. There are enough strong Indonesian implementing and capacity building agencies and Cordaid has contributed to that, as I said before. But Cordaid could still act as an investor in Indonesia and put its knowledge and networks to good use.

You joined Cordaid in 2014. What are your personal highlights of the past 6 years?

For me, being a humanitarian is a highlight in itself. I started doing this work after the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake. Being from Yogyakarta myself, I felt the need to roll up my sleeves when that disaster hit my city. Before that, I used to teach English at University.  I still teach and train, not in classrooms any longer, but in disaster areas, increasing people’s emergency response and climate adaptation skills. And working a lot with INGOs, my English still comes in handy.

A typical street in Marunda, Jakarta.

Joining Cordaid was the start of a steep learning curve for me. The knowledge, the talents, and the needs of the communities come first. They are the basis to reduce risks, increase resilience, and influence policies. Doing this with colleagues at Global Office in The Hague, and sharing experiences with Cordaid counterparts in Kenya, South Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, Philippines, Myanmar, and feeling supported by them, was very valuable, professionally as well as personally.

Any takeaways?

Just a reminder. Big disasters are the scenes of extreme hardship, grief, and resilience. But they also mean big business, big contracts. This is inevitable if you need to reach out and provide life-saving assistance to thousands of people in isolated situations, under extreme time pressure. At all times, you need to make sure that as much money as possible goes to those who need it most. Monitoring your operations with this in mind is of extreme importance.

A community garden and learning centre in Marunda, near the harbour.
A community garden and learning centre in Marunda, near the harbour.

What are your plans for the future?

In fact, together with ex-Cordaid staff, all from Indonesia, we have started our own disaster resilience and risk reduction NGO. We are no longer tied to The Hague but operate independently. In a sense, we are capitalizing on our time with Cordaid and now we move on without them.


Read more about Cordaid’s climate and disaster resilience work.