Generational memories of natural disasters in Southeast Asia

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I have long been interested in how memories of significant events live and die among populations. This is important, because these memories are not neutral, and carry values, fears, hopes and expectations that are often transmitted to future generations.

I suspect few events are more significant, and traumatic, for survivors than major natural disasters. Perhaps the most significant in Southeast Asia in living memory was the December 26 2004 tsunami, but there are already adults with no memory of that event.

As result, what I term “peak memory”, the time when the biggest percentage of adults with a distinct memory of that disaster, has already passed. Taking as a starting point the age of memory for a child as being five years old, that would mean for 13 years after the event new adults would have a memory of the event, but from that time (in this case the year 2017) the total percentage with memory will diminish more adults emerge with no memory of the event and those with a memory of the event pass on.

Nevertheless it will be a long time into the future before nobody has direct experience of the event. Noting again the selection of the age of first memory at five years old, and assuming nobody who experienced that event lives beyond 100 years of age, direct memory of the December 26 2004 tsunami will collectively die in around 2099.

This timeframe may also be understood by looking at historical examples.

My grandfather, who died in 1992, was born in 1907. As a result, he undoubtedly met someone who remembered, and possibly heard, the Krakatoa explosion (see here) just 24 years before his birth. What is far less likely is that he met someone who remembered the Tambora eruption (see here) some 92 years before he was born.

That would suggest peak memory of Tambora lasted from 1815 to around 1828, and direct memory ended in about 1900, several years before his birth. If, however, a 5 year old encountered one of the last of those with direct memory of Tambora then that (then) 5 year old could have carried that shared memory through to around 1995.

In contrast, the Krakatoa eruption, which now seems an impossibly distant 135 years ago, would have existed as a peak memory until 1898, a direct memory until 1978 and will possibly endure as a shared experience until 2073.

And the December 26 2004 tsunami? Well, as mentioned above peak memory would have ended less than two weeks ago and direct memory will pass around 2099, but personal knowledge of someone who lived through that time will linger until possibly the year 2194.

Those memories can indeed experience a long life.

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Best places to be in Southeast Asia on New Years’ Eve

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The post title is also the headline of the oneindia.com news article here.

That article’s opening paragraph concludes that “…with some careful planning, you can end up celebrating the New Year’s Eve in some of the most exciting places in Southeast Asia”. The planning required will be extraordinary indeed given that the article was published just yesterday, five days after New Year’s Eve.

Nevertheless, the purpose of this post is not to criticise in any way what I am sure are the fine folk at oneindia.com. I highlight this post merely for its curious nomination of Korea as being within Southeast Asia.

I am mindful that the list is perhaps less definitive of “best places to be on New Years Eve” than “best places to be on New Years Eve for the sort of reader who oneindia.com appeals to”. And that is fair enough, you can hardly expect oneindia.com to cater for a different readership, but it does raise the question; is Korea portayed as being part of Southeast Asia because oneindia.com believes it is, or is Korea placed in Southeast Asia because oneindia.com thinks it’s readers consider it to be so?

I cannot of course answer that question without significant research (unless, dear reader, you just happen to have a link to a peer referenced paper on this very question), but I suspect each option is possible.

From an Indian perspective distant east Asia is quite possibly just that, East Asia. The disinction between north-East and south-East is largely a Western cultural creation, and there is no special reason why Indian online newspaper readers must embrace that particular interpretation of the international order. The concept of Korea being part of Southeast Asia may also be an echo of a distant era of state relations and understandings that predate contemporary international boundaries.

Or perhaps it is simply the perception that there are an insufficient number of worthwhile places to be in Southeast Asia on New Years’ Eve for oneindia.com readers, and Seoul is considered to be an equally attractive alternative.

I will leave it to you as to whether that says more about the views of some potential Indian tourists or the possible lack of tourist appeal of most of Southeast Asia.

Cyber Maturity in the Asia Pacific Region 2017

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That’s the title of the recently released Australian Strategic Policy Institute report available in a .pdf here.

In a comprehensive breakdown by a range of metrics and individual country assessments, the report “assesses the national approach of Asia–Pacific countries to the challenges and opportunities of cyberspace, taking a holistic approach that assesses governance and legislation, law enforcement, military capacity and policy involvement, and business and social engagement in cyber policy and security issues”.

The five second summary? Greater national wealth correlates closely with enhanced cyber security. Now you know.

The suffering of the rich and famous

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A good summary of the latest developments in the Setya Novanto chronicle by Tim Lindsey, who has a great piece here.

Indonesian social media users may see parallels with the Australian political candidate John Alexander, who is currently being ridiculed on social media for a photo here of him (and his staff) calling voters…using phones that were unconnected.

In another amazing coincidence a high profile Australian also suffered serious injuries on his recent trip to court. You can read the story here and, would you believe it, the matter also evolved into another police investigation (see here) on related matters.

Sometimes Australia and Indonesia are not that different after all.

Indonesia’s forest fires, 2017…

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Yes, that time of year again when vast plumes of airborne particulates from forest fires in Sumatra and elsewhere in the region cause choking pollution across much of Southeast Asia.

A very readable background piece offering an understanding of the issue is here.

There was some hope that this year would be different. In 2016 the World Resources Institute wrote here that…

For the last several years, forest fires driven by agricultural expansion have spiked every summer in Indonesia, creating smog and public health crises, including more than 100,000 deaths, throughout Southeast Asia. While fires are once again flaring, they’re not nearly as bad as usual—there are currently about a quarter as many burning across Indonesia this year compared to this time [September 2016] in 2015.

The article goes on to give a comprehensive explanation why.

Sadly however that trend seems not to have lasted a year.

Just a couple of days ago the East Asia Forum here Armida S Alisjahbana, Padjadjaran University and Jonah Busch wrote that “forest fires sweeping across Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent months prompted six Indonesian provinces to declare a state of emergency”.

That may imply the problem suddenly emerged, but as the Jakarta Post report here from January this year indicates, the annual emergency has effectively become chronic and now lasts for much of the year.

The reader can come to their own conclusion on the Indonesian Government’s recent claims to success in fighting fires (reported here), but given a recent Reuters report here that Indonesia lost a million hectares of tree cover in 2016 alone and the disastrous public health impacts from the smog that you can read about here, here and here, I desperately hope the Indonesian Government is right.

ASEAN in Manila

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Tis the season…to be talking.

Of course few bodies talk more and arguably achieve less than ASEAN, with the added distraction this time around with the presence of US President Trump at the meetings now taking place in Manila.

What will they discuss? What are the likely outcomes? A good summary for those interested is available here.

The summary? There will almost certainly be a lot of talk. And action? Well, if acting involves muliple statements, then yes, expect action.

And life and increasingly death for the Rohingya will continue, and the other urgent problems in the regon will be there unaddressed for the next meeting and further talks.

And some more Indonesian volcano pictures

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Mt Rinjani, with the infant volcano below

How can there be a better way to end the week than with some astonishing pictures from Indonesia’s volcanoes?

If the picture of Mt Rinjani above doesn’t impress you with its scale, have a look at the view from the summit of Mt Rinjani here with the pyramid shadow stretching into the distance.

Something a bit more dynamic is available by flying over Mt Tambora, which you can do here. For those readers a bit younger than me who weren’t around at the time, Mt Tambora last erupted in 1815 with possbly the biggest explosion since humans came down from the trees.

Perhaps I will end with this one here, a couple of thousand kilometres to the west. This is Mt Sinabung in North Sumatra filling the sky with volcanic ash and, flake by gritty flake, reshaping the Indonesian landmass with what will becom the most fertle soil on the planet.