Friday, June 30, 2006

What population?

At the end of the "Future of Cities" session, someone asked why population matters (e.g. family planning) was NOT dealth with enough during the World Urban Forum. Obviously, she was concerned about population pressure.

David Satterthwaite, however, gave a really blunt answer. He said:
"Population is not the problem. The problem is Donald Trump. We can fit the whole world's population in an area as big as Senegal, at the density of Chelsea. And, Chelsea is a pretty nice place..."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More Ikhlas, please!

The Muslims have a word that I like a lot: ikhlas, meaning to give something without wanting anything in return. A close English comparison is maybe sincere, but ikhlas also means pure. Someone told me before that being ikhlas is like going to the toilet to poop or pee. You don't ever think of what happens to it next. You give something away to someone who needs it, and you forget about it. You never expect it to return in your favor the next day.

In the context of disaster relief and reconstruction, it seems that Indonesia - well, Bantul people in Yogyakarta, at least (maybe learning from the Aceh experience) - are sick and tired of people giving "aid" when they really want to:
  1. give loan
  2. convert someone to another religion
  3. win political support
  4. promote themselves (too much), for whatever reason
In the Bantul People's Asembly last Tuesday, the Indonesian flag stood proud and at full-height, instead of the usual half-hight to symbolize mourn.

Emha Ainun Najib said, "If anyone wants to help Bantul, then help. You don't need to "brag" about yourself. As from now on, I'd only like to see the Red and White Flag standing in Bantul. Let there be no other flags, be it political parties' or any other organization that's trying to take advantage of people's misery." Suara Merdeka and Republika reported.

Conversation with a Taxi Driver

We arrived in Vancouver this afternoon, and took the taxi to the University of British Columbia. Our driver was of Somalian-origin, who instantly said "Assalamu'alaikum" after he found out that we were from Indonesia.

I remember two things that he said, responding to our being here on United Nations business.

One is that UN Headquarters should move from New York to Vancouver (or anywhere but the US), so that the UN would not be biased to US interests, and that it would stop "changing diapers" for the US.

Another is that he's not interested in working for the UN. Especially if their actions keep tending to back (or at least legitimize) the US' "mistakes."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Clearing House = To Clear Rubbles ?

We have a problem.
It's over-usage of "the language of gods" (bahasa dewa), while in reality we often interact with people who talk "the language of folks" (bahasa kawula).

Combine has listed itself at the Disaster Coordination Unit as an agency that provides "clearing house" service. As a result, for the past few days I've received calls from people who asked for shovels and even backhoes.

OK. I'm exaggerating. Not backhoes... (yet)

I felt like smiling, but then I remember these are people who've maybe lost their houses. So I swallowed that smile, and explained to them patiently what we really do...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Community, Communication, Cartography"

Pak Baiquni from Geography UGM has a new slogan that has stayed in my head for the past several days: "Three C's (Community, Communication, Cartography)." I think part of it reflects the academia's self-interest to prove its role in times of emergency. Another part reflects a comprehensive thought at how data & information are communicated and presented to and from the people most affected.

So this is what the geography folks are doing: some volunteers are out in the field collecting data directly from community groups, others work with (commercial) radio stations to collect data from the people who call-in to request for aid, others then map the data into web GIS. In the beginning I thought, "Great - data is collected, and then mapped. So what?" It's relief agencies who are going to use the maps more. Great idea, but nothing new.

But last night he said that "Three C's" work the other way around, too: so it's Cartography, Communication, Community. Data and information laid out on maps will then be communicated back to the community. A two-way flow!

I'm excited. Let's see how it all rolls.

Database, Interests, and Acquaintance

Synergizing datasets is not as easy as it seems.

This evening, 5 organizations/initiatives who each work on collecting data and building database on the 27/6/06 earthquake relief met in Gelanggang, UGM. They were Combine,, UGM Gelanggang activists, UGM Geography, and Suara Korban Bencana. The meeting was to see if there was a collective need to synergize such datasets – so together, we all could paint a more complete picture of victims’ condition and needs. If we could do this, we (again, collectively) could provide a better – as in more comprehensive - referral service for those working to distribute aid.

Several issues arose. Some of the more technical ones include difficulty of building a single-format database, that the variety of data on the ground is endless, and whether there is any good in uniforming them. An example cited was that UGM (institutions within it) took 2 years to agree and use a single database. Another issue is validity of data and difficulty in collecting and entering data into digital format.

Some options were discussed:

1) we all have/build/integrate into a single database,

2) we have mirroring servers,

3) we use web service to collect data by request from each database,

4) we keep data in our own varied formats in our own database, but provide links to each other and build a better flow of information.

Other issues are more macro/political – such as the government’s plan (backed by donor agencies) to provide cash for work, cash handouts for living allowance, and cash handouts to the people to re-build their houses. Generally there’s an agreement that we don’t want our local wisdoms and social cohesion destroyed by the amount & distribution method of aid. Another political issue is the tendency of some agencies (most likely NGOs) to “sell” data for money/proposal.

How can we trust that each and every organization present will not use the data for obscure interests?

The answer is: WE CAN’T. Not on a first meeting, at least. It’s very normal not to trust someone whom you just met. And there’s also a case that an organization (especially associations) can't just make a decision without consulting with its members. That’s why we haven’t come into any conclusion tonight. We’re meeting again in 2 days. Next time, we should meet as better acquaintances.

There’s so much potential in Jogja. Together we should be able to contribute more.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Disaster Coordination Unit

I'm probably not going to write news-style reports about the 27 May earthquake & its aftermaths here. However, let me share some photos from my trip to the Disaster Coordination Unit (Satlak) in Bantul, a few days ago.

"We want to help!":the volunteer recruitment desk

"People in my neighborhood need help! Here are their names..."

"Here you go... A bag full of goodies for everyone."

And here's a list of some sites with information on the quake. Note that much content is in Indonesian: