On December 7, 2016, a shallow magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck northern Sumatra in Indonesia, severely damaging or destroying more than ten thousand homes and many businesses, as well as causing over a hundred deaths. The disaster struck a poorer area away from the major cities, where the standards of building design, construction methods, and material quality are not sufficient to withstand such an earthquake.
USGS Shake map for Mw 6.5 Earthquake
We have up-to-date research on local building design and construction practices in Indonesia, which we have incorporated into the latest version of the RMS® Indonesia Earthquake Model. This research was done last year when members of the RMS vulnerability team, including me, visited southeast Asia as part of the process to update the model. We held workshops with local earthquake engineering experts who practice there, and attended an earthquake engineering conference, as well as visiting commercial and industrial buildings, including those under construction, to see first-hand how they were designed and built.
A workshop with local experts
International Conference – Jogja Earthquake in Reflection (May, 2016)
This on-the-ground research provided insights into Indonesia’s rules and practices around construction, seismic design, code enforcement, as well as information on the relative quantities of different types of buildings in the country. We discovered significant differences between mainstream construction and those buildings covered by earthquake insurance, namely:
- Past earthquakes have demonstrated that single family dwellings and/or low rise buildings are the most vulnerable building types compared to those built for commercial and industrial use, because of a lack of engineering design, poor construction, and lower material quality.
- Buildings outside of major cities are mostly low rises and they may not be designed for earthquake risk.
- Major cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya enforce a strict structural design review process for the construction of mid- and high-rise buildings.
- Insurance penetration rates are higher for commercial and industrial buildings in and near major cities, with much lower penetration for residential properties in rural areas.
It’s perhaps not surprising that if poorer communities have less insurance protection, that they also cannot afford to invest in the higher quality construction that is designed to better withstand earthquakes. This is one of the primary reasons for the ‘protection gap’. As these countries become more developed, there’s the potential for that gap to start closing. In fact, Indonesia is one of the fastest growing economies in southeast Asia, with the property insurance and (re)insurance market expanding rapidly.
But as the earthquake disaster demonstrated, there are still many poorer regions with low insurance penetration which are also prone to repeated natural disasters. Sadly, there is still a long way to go before people in those places benefit from the resilience in their built environment which other, richer parts of the world may take for granted.