The Indonesian archipelago is highly prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and landslides. High exposure to natural hazards, coupled with rapid urbanisation and low coping capacity, leaves populations vulnerable to disasters and leads to large numbers of new displacements every year. Violence and conflict in the Papua region also continue to displace people and tens of thousands of IDPs live in protracted displacement as a result of insurgencies between 1998 and 2004 and religious conflict between 2007 and 2014.
In the first half of 2019, about 112,000 new displacements were recorded, 11,000 by disasters and 600 by conflict and violence. Find out more about displacement in Indonesia and other countries in the Mid-Year Figures Report.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands, all prone to disasters brought on by natural hazards. Rapid population growth and urbanization have concentrated millions of people in highly exposed areas, and the country is also highly vulnerable because of low economic development in some areas, which in turn contributes to a low coping capacity. These factors combine to give Indonesia some of the highest levels of displacement associated with disasters worldwide. Most are linked to evacuations, in which people take refuge in government-run shelters and centres.
IDMC’s prospective disaster displacement risk model ranks Indonesia eighth in the world for average annual displacement risk. An average of 378,000 people are at risk of being displaced by sudden-onset disasters at any given year in the future. In comparison, IDMC's historical data shows that 512,000 people were displaced by sudden-onset hazards each year between 2008 and 2018. IDMC’s historical data supports this prediction. An average of around 402,000 people were displaced by sudden-onset hazards each year between 2008 and 2016. Particularly large events since included floods and landslides during the 2016 rainy season that triggered 949,000 new displacements, a volcanic eruption in Bali in 2017 that led to more than 150,000 new displacements and earthquakes in July and September 2018, which led to 693,000 displacements in total.
Indonesia’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire and its unique position at the intersection of three major tectonic plates make the country particularly prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. It also experiences an annual monsoon season, which can contribute to yearly flooding and landslides. Hazard maps show that a significant proportion of the population live in areas at high risk of being affected by such hazards. Around five per cent, or more than 11 million people, live in areas prone to earthquakes, and around 2.5 million people are exposed to tsunamis.
After decades of rapid urbanisation, 55 per cent of Indonesia’s population were living in urban areas in 2018, many of which have high exposure to hazards and climate change impacts. This is particularly the case for the capital Jakarta, which is exposed to annual flooding and sea level rise. The coastal city is crisscrossed by 13 rivers that often break their banks during the monsoon season. The growth of informal settlements, rapid changes in land use and the inability of its drainage system to cope have also increased the city's vulnerability to floods.
Indonesia also has a history of displacement associated with conflict. Most relates to armed conflict and intercommunal violence in the years after President Suharto’s resignation in 1998. Very little information exists on displacement during his time in power, but as many as three million people were thought to have been displaced nationwide between 1998 and 2004. Tensions between different religious and ethnic groups fuelled violence in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and Central and West Kalimantan, and separatist movements sparked conflict in Aceh, Papua and Timor.
Violence decreased significantly with the signing of the Maluku II agreement in 2002 and the Aceh peace accord in 2005, and the vast majority of those displaced have returned home. New displacements in recent years have mostly been linked to violence in the Papua region.
Very little data exists on displacement associated with development projects, but it is likely to have been significant given decades of rapid economic growth in Indonesia. Anecdotal evidence suggests there is a risk of displacement associated with energy, mining, agriculture and urban renewal projects, but further research is needed.
Where and how do people move?
Indonesia’s national disaster management agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana, BNPB) monitors impacts and coordinates humanitarian assistance. People who flee disasters tend to move to temporary government evacuation shelters or stay with family and friends. Early warning systems enable pre-emptive evacuations for hazards such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
People who take refuge in temporary shelters often return home during the day to tend to their land and livestock, as happened in Bali between September and December 2017 when an increase in seismic activity around Mount Agung triggered the evacuation of 150,000 people. Such movements and the large number of people who decide to stay with family and friends make it difficult to fully understand where people are and how many may still be displaced.
The majority of people displaced by inter-communal violence and insurgencies between 1998 and 2004 have returned home, but some are still living in displacement largely as a result of unresolved ethnic and religious tensions and land disputes. Most live in West Timor in Maluku, others in North Sulawesi and West Lombok. People displaced by attacks against religious minorities between 2007 and 2013 have also been unable to return. Displacement associated with conflict in Papua and West Papua tends to take place in remote rural areas where many people fear to return.
In 2018, there were around 4,500 people newly displaced in Indonesia due to conflict. This was the result of different types of conflict, including clashes between pro-independence fighters and the Indonesian military in Papua, as well as communal violence in West Nusa Tenggara.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
Depending on the scale of the disaster involved, people are displaced to temporary shelters or evacuation centres may remain there for extended periods with little to no knowledge of when they may be able to return or achieve other durable solutions. People forced to flee after the 2009 Sumatra earthquake still faced delays in obtaining permits for land, continued to be exposed to hazards and lacked livelihood opportunities five years after their displacement. People displaced by the eruption of Mount Sinabung in 2013 faced reconstruction and relocation delays. Given the extensive damage caused by the September 2018 earthquake in Central Sulawesi and ensuing five to six-metre tsunami, it is unclear when the 211,000 people displaced to more than 900 formal and informal camp will be able to achieve durable solutions.
Displacement also raises issues of housing, land and property rights. The lack of formal tenure makes it difficult for people displaced, be it by conflict or disasters, to reclaim their land and homes upon return if ownership is disputed by other claimants. People displaced between 1998 and 2004 who failed to return also experienced difficulties in finding new land and homes over which they could establish tenure. Many were unable to afford to purchase or register land, and tensions arose between IDPs and their hosts over the issue.
Displacement often involves setbacks in terms of education, livelihoods, housing, infrastructure, security and social life. It also considered to take a toll on people’s physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing, though only limited quantitative data exists to support this. Around 10,000 evacuees in Bali were reported to be ill with stress and fatigue in October 2017 as a result of the inadequate living conditions in their shelters.
People displaced by violence in Papua and West Papua have struggled with physical insecurity, freedom of movement restrictions and lack of access to food, water, shelter, livelihood opportunities and healthcare.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
BNPB has developed a systematic national data collection, monitoring and response mechanism, and is one of the main sources of information on disaster displacement in Indonesia. As a government institution, its status is equal to that of national ministries that report to the president, and its mandated tasks include coordinating disaster management activities and assuming command in an emergency. In order to do so, BNPB reports displacement figures through press releases, infographics and other media, and maintains an online disaster database that provides information on people affected, including those displaced. Others, such as the Ministry of Health’s crisis centre and the Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance, a body of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also collect displacement data. A key challenge in the data system for disaster displacement involves coordination and data sharing between stakeholder.
There is no single, comprehensive source of data on people displaced by conflict and violence. IDMC collects its information from various sources, including government agencies, international NGOs, UN agencies and media outlets.
IDMC’s estimates of the total number of IDPs and the number of new displacements in Indonesia in 2018 are based on media monitoring. The end-of-year total includes people displaced by intercommunal and insurgencyrelated violence between 1998 and 2004 and who have been unable or unwilling to return. The estimate also accounts for people displaced by attacks against religious minorities between 2007 and 2013 and who have been unable to reach a durable solution, people forcibly evicted as a result of land disputes and people displaced by a long-running separatist conflict in Papua, which triggered most of the new displacements in 2018. The estimated number of new displacements is also based on a review of reports of transgender people fleeing targeted violence.
IDMC considers the 1,500 returns reported by the Indonesian military in 2018 to be unverified solutions because there is insufficient evidence either that people returned or of the conditions they returned to.