Please tell us what you think of this issue!  Feedback

Bulletin, June/July 2010

The Use of Community Radio in Managing Natural Disaster in Indonesia

by Mario Antonius Birowo

On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale caused a giant wave that devastated coastal regions of several countries. Aceh, the western most province in Indonesia, was the region worst affected by the tsunami. Along hundreds of kilometers of coastline in this province 180,000 people were killed, and houses and buildings were flattened, leaving more than 500,000 people homeless. The damage to the communication infrastructure isolated devastated areas. Donor organizations, domestic and international, built community radio stations to help people access information. Since the tsunami disaster in Aceh, community radio has been used in Indonesia by people in disaster situations for natural disaster management at the grassroots level [1]. Lintas Merapi Community Radio [2] is an example of a grassroots people’s initiative that has used local resources to manage and disseminate information in their environment.

Living with Natural Disasters
Even while Indonesia was recovering from the devastation of the tsunami in Aceh and from the Nias earthquake, which occurred in 2004, additional earthquakes in Java (in the Bantul and Klaten Regencies on May 27, 2006) and a tsunami in Java (Pangandaran Beach, July 17, 2006) shocked the country. In these latter disasters the World Bank and Asian Disaster Reduction Center [3] reported that more than 5000 people were killed. Indonesia also experienced several other natural disasters over the following years, such as a landslide in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara Province (2006), floods in Jakarta (2006, 2007), a landslide in West Java (2010), an earthquake in West Sumatera (2007, 2009), an earthquake in West Java (2010) and the volcanic activities of Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta. 

The Center for Hazards and Risk Research at Columbia University gives the historical data on disasters in Indonesia from 1907 to 2004 (excluding the Aceh Tsunami in 2004) [4]. This information illustrates that over almost 100 years Indonesia experienced 10 cyclones, 11 droughts, 78 earthquakes, 93 floods and 43 volcanic eruptions. Indeed Indonesia is a country that experiences many natural disasters since it is located in a tropical region along the Pacific Ring of Fire, sandwiched between three continental plates – a setting with the potential for various natural hazards such as earthquakes (volcanic and tectonic), volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, landslides and droughts. Many say that, given these circumstances, Indonesians should be familiar with natural disasters and should prepare themselves to anticipate them.

Lintas Merapi: Radio for People Living in a High Risk Area
Mount Merapi is a volcano located between the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java. Since Merapi is still a very active volcano, people living in its vicinity always face the risk of living through a potential eruption. Being aware of the dangers of Merapi, they use their resources – such as their indigenous knowledge, their community organization and their communication system – to reduce risk to life and property. Although people have organized training for risk-reduction since 1995, Merapi’s activities during April and May 2006 raised awareness of the need to improve the methods to protect life. 

People living in the risk area on the slopes of Merapi understand that information is important in reducing risk from disaster. For this reason they established a community radio communication system – Radio Komunitas Lintas Merapi (Lintas Merapi Community Radio). Lintas Merapi literally means Crossing Merapi. This radio station was set up to distribute information quickly about the Merapi Volcano. It serves 70,000 people living on the slope of Merapi, especially Deles Subdistrict, Central Java. 

Lintas Merapi Community Radio was established in 2001 as a result of people’s need for an effective, but cheap, communication device. The studio is located in the house of a farmer (named Sukiman) who was very active in the social life of his village. It is in a strategic location beside a village road; therefore, it can be easily accessed by villagers. In the early days, the radio only worked on 20 watt power. The radio system used very simple, hand-built equipment and was created with very limited funds as an emergency radio. The radio did not have a soundproof studio; it was positioned in a room in Sukiman’s house. He reports that only few people were concerned about the purpose of the radio when the service was initiated [5]. 

In 2006 two events occured that caused people in the Deles to rethink the importance of community radio. First, in April of 2006 Merapi erupted. When the Merapi volcano increased its activity, thousands of people living on its slopes were evacuated to refugee camps placed about 10 kilometers from the villages. As a result of this relocation, local people were in the refugee camps for months, which had a serious impact on their lives. Since most of them were farmers, they were unable to make a living when separated from their fields and houses. 

Then, just a month after the eruption, an earthquake in Yogyakarta and Klaten, 30 kilometers south of Deles, occured. A severe earthquake, 5.7 on the Richter scale with its epicenter in Bantul, it destroyed Bantul (Yogyakarta Province) and Klaten (Central Java Province) and their surrounding areas on May 27, 2006. This natural disaster occurred at 5:50 a.m. when people were just starting their day. Children were preparing to go to school, and some were still sleeping. Suddenly the disaster changed their plans for their day and their lives.

More than 5,000 people were reported dead, and 60,000 houses, buildings and public facilities were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake [6]. Damage to electricity, telephone and transportation facilities isolated the affected people from other regions until three days after the disaster. Chaos ensued because there was no power in the location, and mobile phone networks were overloaded. Inhabitants were faced with uncertainty, since they did not know what would happen with their lives and their environment. Rumors that there would be another, bigger earthquake or a tsunami following the earthquake spread through the region. Just an hour after the earthquake, roads were full of people running or driving to find a higher place in the north of Yogyakarta to avoid a tsunami. People panicked at that time because they remembered the tsunami in Aceh, on December 26, 2004.

As a result of these unfortunate experiences, people in Deles began to reconsider the importance of community radio for disaster risk reduction. They agreed to improve their radio. In 2008, a new studio was built outside Sukiman’s house. The radio was equipped with a mixer, an audio compressor, handy talkies/HT (two-way radio), a desktop computer, a phase-locked loop/PLL (a closed loop frequency control system) and a tower. The radio included an Internet link, supported by a local non-profit organization. Right at the back of the studio, a patrol post was built to monitor Mount Merapi as an early warning system in the village.

Based on their daily experience, a standard operating procedure for monitoring the environment of Merapi was set up. Local people distributed HT to 14 pos ronda (patrol posts). HT is used in this area because there are no telephone lines. In addition, the mobile phone signal is low. Pos ronda are observation points to visually monitor the activities and environment of Merapi. To support observations people close to the radio studio also built a tower. All of the people in charge of the patrol posts were to report emergency situations to the Lintas Merapi studio. Announcers on duty were to make notes of all details of information reported from the patrol posts. The announcer then would broadcast the information to all inhabitants. To complement their monitoring, the radio station cooperated with Balai Penyelidikan dan Pengembangan Teknologi Kegunungapian/BPPTK (a government institution that is responsible for monitoring volcanoes in Indonesia). Information from BPPTK was useful to ensure the accuracy of the radio’s report about Mount Merapi’s activities.

Information from Lintas Merapi Radio is not only used by local people, but also by people living along the rivers that flow from Mount Merapi. The rivers are lines of hot and cold material (sand) and usually occur after heavy rain on the slopes of Merapi. Many people utilize materials from Merapi, such as stones and sand, for building materials. They dig sand and stones from these rivers and sell them in the surrounding areas. Since their life and livelihood depend on the condition of the rivers, they listen to Lintas Merapi Radio’s reports on the situation in the upper parts of Mount Merapi and thus avoid the impact of flood material brought by the rain. The radio announces emergency information to its listeners if there is potential risk from conditions on Merapi. Sand miners in the rivers always monitor the radio. 

The volunteers have agreed that whenever there is an emergency, the radio will be activated. This agreement was put into action on one occasion when there was a particularly heavy rain in the early hours of one morning. Volunteers came immediately to the Lintas Merapi studio and broadcast live reports about the situation on Mount Merapi. The radio was also set up to broadcast information about evacuation paths and refugee camps, if needed.

To enable participation, Lintas Merapi Community Radio has invited everyone who wants to participate to be a volunteer. The operation of Lintas Merapi has been financed by donations from individuals and from local organizations, such as Forum Klaster Lereng Merapi (Clusters of the Slope of Merapi). To maintain transparency, all budgets are stuck on the wall of the studio so everyone can read them. To maintain community orientation, this radio does not accept any commercial advertising. However, it does broadcast public service advertising that promotes villagers’ productivity. To further this goal, it has also been used to support programs of agriculture and home-industry such as handicrafts and production of local delicacies and traditional snacks.

Volunteers of Lintas Merapi have invited outside institutions to work together in the development of the radio. For instance, starting on August 23, 2007, the services of the radio were offered to local government and the wider public, including non-profit organizations and people’s organizations, to be used as a part of the early warning system in the vicinity of Mount Merapi. 

The Use of the Internet
Thanks to Internet technology, volunteers have built solidarity with people outside the areas affected by disasters. Volunteers have used the Internet in several ways:

  • Email. Communication with other community radio stations is important to support operation in the affected areas. Community radio volunteers need operational information, equipment and money to support their operation. They use the mailing lists of the Community Radio Network of Indonesia (jrki_ngobrol<at> to consolidate their resources. These lists have been used intensively to coordinate community radio volunteers in collecting aid to help people in the affected areas. 
  • Website. News can also be found on the Lintas Merapi website Through this website people can communicate with people outside their villages. One result of this communication, for example, was the ability to invite the wider public to join in their environmental conservation program named tanam air (water investigation). Several people from Japan and Australia have made donations to the program. In this program they planted trees on the slopes of Merapi in order to preserve spring water. 
  • Communication with official sources. To support information about natural disasters, community radio uses the Internet to access data from authoritative government institutions such as Badan Meteorologi dan Geofisika/BMKG (a government institution which is responsible for meteorology, climatology and geophysics in Indonesia) and BPPTK. 

A consequence of the close relationship between media such as community radio and the community is that the persons involved understand the local problems of the community. Community radio volunteers become frontline reporters in an emergency. In several disaster-affected areas in Indonesia volunteers had the advantage over journalists from the mainstream media: They lived in the affected areas and were close to the victims. They knew their people and environment well. In addition, as victims, volunteers understand the reality faced by victims and voice victims’ interests accurately. Community radio stations have proved that they can provide specific information for particular communities, especially in areas affected by natural disasters. 

Resources Mentioned in the Article
[1] World Bank. (November 23, 2006). Airwaves are helping communities to recover and rebuild in Aceh and Nias. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

[2] Lintas Merapi Community Radio [website]:

[3] Asian Disaster Reduction Center [website]:

[4] Columbia University Center for Hazards and Risk Research. (2005). Indonesia natural disaster profile. New York: the Center. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

[5] Information about Lintas Merapi Community Radio is part of the author’s research in the area in 2006-2010 for his dissertation: Birowo, M.A. (2010). Community radio and grassroots democracy: A case study of three villages in Yogyakarta Region, Indonesia(2010). Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Curtin University of Technology (Australia). 

[6] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (June 1, 2006). OCHA situation report, No. 6: Indonesia-earthquake. Geneva, Switzerland: OCHA. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

Mario Birowo is a lecturer in the Communication Department, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Atma Jaya Yogyakarta University, Indonesia. He can be reached at mbirowo<at>