by Victor Tumilba, University of Tokyo
“On four-wheel-drive jeeps we traveled across dry riverbeds and mangled broken dusty roads. Forward we moved towards the source of devastation. Peering over cliffs as we journeyed could be seen miles and miles of the remnants of destruction. Over the distance loomed Mount Merapi, two years since its last eruption. We stood on the ground where once there was desolation. As we watched, we saw nature and community in reconstruction. The process of learning had just begun even though we have already reached our destination. This is only one of many we had experienced and where we had learned how to reconstruct a resilient nation.”
The Young Researcher’s School of 2012 (2012 YRS) imparted invaluable knowledge and experience as well as simple appreciation for society, culture and nature. The 2012 YRSwas a successful program implementation of concerted efforts towards network building and cultivating research skills in the field of sustainable development by featuring actual sustainability case study issues. Organized by the Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network (ProSPER.Net), the 2012 YRS was conducted in Yogyokarta, Indonesia and hosted by the prestigious Gaja Mada University. The challenge presented to the participating scholars was the overarching theme of “Building a Resilient Society in Asia”. Projecting trajectories towards a resilient society is not an easy task for it constitutes a diverse set of building blocks and is defined by a variety of perspectives dependent on how communities perceive a sustainable future. In order to deal with such a complex topic, the program integrated an excellent mesh of lectures; supplemental actual field case study visits; competency building exercises and panel discussions which highlighted the experiences of participants, lecturers and organizers coming from a diverse set of academic and cultural backgrounds. The aggregate lectures offered both breadth and depth in scope covering global and local perspectives on sustainability issues and concepts. The breadth included coverage of varying issues ranging from social and ecological domains such as social entrepreneurship for poverty alleviation and disaster management. The depth of learning was facilitated by actual field experience featuring communities putting into practice the concepts provided in the lectures. In order to enhance sustainable development study approaches, lectures on both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies were presented. The final outcome was the integration of learning in the form of project proposals for a case study scenario based on the characteristics of the field areas featured in the program.
Case study reflections: Resilience
The passage to Mount Merapi brought forward a mixture of sentiments. One could not deny the beauty of the volcanic mountain nor ignore the destructive force it possessed. After two years of the eruption, reminders of its fury still lingered throughout the journey. In the middle of what seemed to be a barren wasteland, a glimmer of hope did appear. A few patches of grass and a few budding shrubs and trees make a new beginning for nature to reappear. Is this not how nature starts in building new majestic forest landscapes? It is a way of reorganizing elements for nature to renew itself. There were other signs of reconstruction as well. A few makeshift stalls that offered food and wares to the visitors who came to see Mount Merapi, a tourism industry in its early stages of development. The site was a prime example of how human and natural systems co-evolve after experiencing such surprising disturbance. A resilient society needs a resilient environment.
Gondang I Shelter
Seated on woven mats we shared stories over a traditional meal with a village elder of Gondang I, a temporary shelter for those villages that lost their land to Mount Merapi. Although the relationship between communities and their areas have been detached, the community connections have remained intact as they were moved to a new location. In fact, new bonds were being created among the local villages and other institutions in their process of transition. It is true that a community must be self-reliant but as the case shows there is also a need for a certain degree of inter-dependency in an event of disaster. A basic unit of societal resilience thus far is the connection in between people, communities and institutions.
In 2006, Serut Village was hit by a devastating earthquake. In its process of recovery the community applied participatory processes. The disturbance gave the village the opportunity to establish several innovative business and community projects. Participation builds and strengthens relationships within the community and increases societal connections and in turn increases resilience of the independent community structure. Building resilience is a process where community involvement strengthens interpersonal ties and provides the opportunity for the collective learning and testing new ways in developing a community.
The road was lined with sculptures and terracotta as we drew nearer to the center of Kasongan Village. Just imagine the devastation when a major earthquake struck in 2006, like a broken vase the village was. The community went through a rebuilding process to its original state with the aid of the government. As compared to the other villages of exploring other industries, Kasongan had quickly recovered its own pottery production and grew it well. Resilience in this case is the ability of the community to rebuild itself to its original state.
Bumi Langit Institute
“Bumi langit” or earth and sky was the representation of the relationship between the tangible and intangible, between material and belief. Mr. Iskandar is a visionary man and his extraordinary beliefs and values were put into practice. He sought for a self-reliant community where resources are utilized efficiently. He created an integrated system for production where by-products of one production system is utilized in other systems. He shared with us his vision and the technologies that still belong in the future. These are the technological innovations that we need but without the corresponding values, beliefs and responsibility would humanity utilize these technologies wisely? Technology and innovation could promote self-sufficiency and in turn increase resiliency but requires normative perspectives in its application.
Sukunan is another village exhibiting technology and innovation through waste management and Eco-tourism. Economic value creation from waste products was the main feature of the village. Waste products were turned to input products for agriculture as well as construction materials such as bricks. In maintaining resilience, system resource use efficiency is also necessary.
Gamping Fruit Market
Pineapples, melons and an assortment colorful tropical fruits fill each stall in the market. Not only was the produce pleasing to the eyes and palate but a source of energy as well for the community. Technology transfer played a role where energy is transformed from fruit-waste to biogas through a refinery system. The project installation is through a concerted effort of the government, academia, and the community. Institutional network is an important aspect in technology transfer which is crucial in development of a resilient community.
Building a resilient society in Asia
Resilience can be observed in the different case studies presented and exhibit varying traits according to its contextual setting. In current literature on resilience theory, resilience is said to be the ability of a system (may it be social, ecological and social-ecological units) to adopt and resist to change. In terms of ecological network systems, resilience could be seen as the strength of the connections of components in an ecological system which allows it to resist or reconfigure to maintain its integrity when disturbed. What exactly are these connections that we see in the case studies? One simple description of connection is relationships. A community has the ability to persist by maintaining personal relationships even when they are displaced from their area by a disturbance. These very basic relationships is what holds the community structure as it undergoes recovery and create other relationships around other surrounding communities and institutions. The stronger the relationships, the stronger the basic structure of the community. Resilience is also a process which involves the whole community to navigate to a more sustainable state. Stakeholder participation facilitates community learning and becomes the driver of community action. As a community goes through transition after a devastation, it is important to build ownership of decisions to be taken. Ownership strengthens connection between each individual to the collective decision. A community could increase its resilience through self-sufficiency but must also maintain a degree of dependency with other communities around them in cases of great calamity. Network relationships are also valuable in facilitating technology transfer needed to increase efficiency in resource use. With these basic concepts in place, communities would have the capacity of resilience. A community with the capacity to reorganize to its original state or a state where new knowledge, industries and concepts are tested and applied which contributes to a more dynamic transition towards a more resilient society in Asia.
Special thanks to each 2012 YRS participant for openly sharing their expertise and knowledge in conceptualizing and contextualizing the complex concept of resilience. The same goes to ProSPER.Net in creating the platform for research and knowledge exchange. Much appreciation is also expressed for the hospitality of Universitas Gadjah Mada which made the stay in Yogyakarta like simply being home.