Indonesian Tsunami - December 2018

Indonesian Tsunami - December 2018

Kate Bahen

December 28, 2018

Different this time

Indonesia's recent tsunami is different from past disasters. With a far smaller toll than previous disasters, Indonesia is going alone without international help. Donors should understand these differences. If Canadians choose to donate, give differently this time.

Photo credit: The Jakarta Post

We held our breath with the breaking news of Indonesia’s tsunami on December 22, 2018. The same place, nearly the same day, triggered memories of one of the world’s most destructive natural disasters, the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.  

Thankfully, this time is different. News reports put the death toll at 430. This is tragic and will likely rise yet the toll is a fraction of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed 227,900[1], or Indonesia’s Sulawesi earthquake in late September 2018 that killed an estimated 2,260[2]. For this Sunda Strait tsunami, a reported 148 people remain missing, a further 1,485 people are injured, and more than 16,000 are displaced.[3]

Situated on the Ring of Fire, natural disasters are sadly common in Indonesia. It is regularly assaulted by earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. It is typically prepared with early warning systems. This recent tsunami was “silent” and caught people off-guard. Apparently, the crater within the Anak Krakatau volcano collapsed. Indonesia’s tsunami-alert system looks to detect earthquakes, not volcanic eruptions.


Thanks for the offer, but no thanks

For relief and recovery, Indonesia’s government is relying on its own resources, its local organizations and its local charities. Following the humanitarian response to the September 2018, it has asked international aid organizations to leave.

“There’s pushback against [foreigners] who come flooding in days or weeks later to take over the response. It’s about taking back power and saying local organizations have significant capacity. Natural disasters aren’t a new phenomenon for Indonesia, unfortunately. … They are well experienced in responding to natural disasters.”

Jen Clancy

Australian Council for International Development.[4]

For the Sunda Straits tsunami relief and recovery efforts, Indonesia’s government is leading and co-ordinating with its own resources and local organizations. This seeks to retain accountability to Indonesians affected by the disaster.  To date, it has not requested international help.[5]

Nevertheless, Canadian Red Cross launched a disaster appeal to support emergency operations in Indonesia.[6]


Killed by our kindness

The Indonesian government’s request has drawn criticism from international aid charities.[7]  Yet Indonesia’s past experience justifies its opposition to calling in international aid organizations to help.

Former Canadian Red Cross officer, Virgil Grandfield was on the ground for reconstruction following the 2004 tsunami. He witnessed how Canadian and international donations led to human trafficking and modern-day slavery of tens of thousands of Indonesians.[8] This negligence led to untold misery and deaths.

“It is my personal hope that we find and compensate at least some of the families of those men and women who died because of our gross negligence in Indonesia. We cannot fix the huge mess we created, but at least we can try to help those harmed by our mistakes….We caused far more harm and pain than would have been if we had never gone there. ”

Virgil Grandfield

2016 National Magazine Award winner for Investigative Reporting


Indonesian local charities to support

Indonesia’s 2018 disaster is different from that of 2004. Our giving response should also be different. Charity Intelligence recommends Canadians respect the wishes of the Indonesian government and not donate to Canadian charities for this disaster response.

Canadians looking to donate to the disaster recovery may consider making a one-time donation to Indonesian charities like:

MDMC, Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centre. It is highly regarded by some humanitarian aid workers.[9] Founded in 2010, MDMC is like a local Red Cross and co-ordinates disaster management and crisis response in Indonesia. Through local awareness and preparedness, MDMC provides faster responses to disasters and builds community resilience.

BNBP, (Badan Nasional Penanggulandan Bencana) This is the national disaster-relief organization in Indonesia. Founded in 2008, BNBP provides disaster response and fair and equitable reconstruction.

Indonesia Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia) Give directly to Indonesian Red Cross rather than through partner agencies.


Caveat: Charity Intelligence has not analysed these Indonesian charities, nor undertaken any due diligence. These charities are simply recommended by seasoned professionals we see as experts, and by local Indonesian news agencies.

Please note, these are not registered Canadian charities and donors will not receive a tax receipt.

Charity Intelligence will monitor Canadian charities that launch fundraising appeals and their relief and recovery results in Indonesia.



1. Wiki 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami

2. Wiki 2018 Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami

3. Jakarta Post, “Sunda Strait tsunami death toll hits 429, Navy discovers bodies at sea”, December 25, 2018

4. Kate Lyons, “Indonesia orders foreign aid workers helping with tsunami efforts to leave: Disaster agency says foreign NGOs should ‘retrieve their personnel immediately, The Guardian, October 9, 2018

5. UN News, “Indonesia tsunami: Many still missing as death toll rises, December 24, 2018

6. Canadian Red Cross, Donate to the Indonesian Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal, December 2018

7. Associated Press, “Indonesia quake that killed more than 500 not a national emergency: officials”, reported by CTV, August 21, 2018

8. National Magazine Awards, interview with Virgil Grandfield, February 16, 2017

9. Charity Intelligence’s independent sources, experienced humanitarian aid workers comments “I second MDMC in Indonesia – they do great work” and “Also a fan of MDMC in Indonesia”.


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Legal disclaimer:

The information in this report was prepared by Charity Intelligence Canada and its independent analysts from publicly-available information. Charity Intelligence and its analysts have made endeavours to ensure that the data in this report is accurate and complete but accepts no liability.

The views and opinions expressed are to inform donors in matters of public interest. Views and opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Charity Intelligence Canada.


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