Guest blog by Dr. Keith Bettinger
This past Saturday we set out early from the island of Ternate to conduct a community vulnerability assessment in the village of Rum on the island of Ternate. The team was really excited to actually apply the techniques we’d learned about during the preceding three days of the workshop. The team had already studied a map of the area, along with top-down information, including statistical indicators for socio-economic and demographic aspects of the community, as well as the spatial plans for the island of Tidore. Everyone was eager to get out into the field to collect data which would help us understand the real situation on the ground.
Our first stop was the administrative office of Rumbalibunga ward (kelurahan) to have a chat with the ward captain (lurah). He provided us with some background about the socioeconomic conditions in the area. Our group had prepared a number of questions for him, and we were impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the issues confronting the people in his area. We learned from him that the most obvious climate-related challenge there is drought. He described the recent drought, which had been more severe than normal. The drought had killed approximately 50% of the clove trees in the area, which is the primary source of income for a large percentage of Rumbalibunga’s residents. We learned that because of this, people that normally derive their income from the cultivation of cloves had to find ways to supplement their incomes temporarily. Some people turn to the sea, catching fish to meet daily subsistence needs and selling any surplus in the market. Others travel to the neighboring islands of Ternate and Halmahera to work as construction workers. One of the participants noted that this pattern supports one of the general lessons we learned during the workshop: that people that a dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and subsistence tend to be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The ward captain also told us that his area was experiencing sea level rise, and that this increased the rate of coastal erosion. Rumbaligunga is an interesting case because it hosts several important facilities, including the long range ferry terminal, the speedboat terminal that serves as a transit and commerce hub between Tidore and the more populated Ternate island, as well as the island’s power plant. Thus critical infrastructure is concentrated in this area, and all of these facilities could potentially be impacted by sea level rise. We also learned that there have been changes in the distribution and abundance of fish. Based on discussions with community members, we learned that the average fish size is getting smaller, while fishermen have to travel farther to find fish. This is occurring throughout Indonesia in many places. We asked the ward captain why this was happening, and he told us that more research is needed. He suggested several possible contributing factors, including overfishing, the construction of the long range ferry terminal, and environmental factors. But without additional research, he was hesitant to jump to any definitive conclusions. One of our team members pointed out that this is a very good application for a vulnerability assessment: to identify areas for further research. Moreover, this kind of research could be conducted by an institution like Khairun University. Research like this could support the design of interventions and projects that serve to reduce vulnerability in the area.
Our next step was the hamlet of Tobalo, which sits up on a ridge a few kilometers outside the main town. Here our team conducted focused interviews with members of the community. We learned first hand about the hazards that they are exposed to. We also learned about some factors that make some people, places, and assets more sensitive to physical processes. For example, our team decided that high dependence on income from cloves makes people more sensitive to exposure to drought. Our conversations also yielded information about adaptive capacity. We noticed that many of the households in Tobalo had installed their own concrete cisterns, into which they channeled rainwater from the roofs of their houses. These cisterns were large enough to provide an average size family water for household needs for up to six months. Thus we judged these households to be quite resilient to the impacts of drought. At the same time, we noted that the community cistern was unused and in disrepair. The community members informed us that this was due to the fact that no one is responsible for its maintenance. Thus it seemed that this increases the sensitivity of those houses without cisterns. We would have to do further research into the issue, but we hypothesized that it is possible that individual adaptation (construction of household cisterns) might undermine community-level adaptation and resilience, because those that own their own cisterns don’t have any incentive to help maintain the community cistern. If this is true, it could result in an “adaptation gap” within the community.
Another thing we noticed was a community water tower that was hooked up to an electric pump that drew water from a source down the ridge (a spring or a well; we did not find out which). The water tower had been built a few years earlier by the provincial government. However, shortly after the tower was constructed, the pump broke, and the tower had not been in use for more than a year. Unfortunately, there is no budget in the provincial government to fix the pump. So we reasoned that this would be a good place to start for increasing resilience in the community: to fix infrastructure that already existed but was no longer functioning, or was functioning at a suboptimal level. It also shows that in planning for projects, you also have to consider the follow up maintenance to ensure the sustainability of the project, or else you risk wasting scarce public resources.
As we arrived back at the speedboat terminal, the sky opened up and a deluge descended upon the village of Rum. We boarded the boat back to Ternate and had a slightly bumpy, but fun, trip back. The next day our group gathered together to synthesize and analyze our data and prepare for a presentation. All in all, we all found the fieldwork to be an excellent opportunity to practice skills that can later be scaled up into more thorough vulnerability assessments.