Vicky Ariyanti - Urban Development and Governance
Preparing for the big eruption. This, in a nutshell, is what Vicky Ariyanty does. The Merapi volcano in Yogyakarta is one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in the world. As an urban and regional planner who specialises in water resources management, Vicky is looking for a way to save lives in the event of an eruption. What makes her PhD research remarkable is that she does not focus on technical solutions alone, but she takes cultural settings in account as well, using old wisdom from the Sultans and people of Yogyakarta.
Vicky, born and raised in Indonesia, is quite an international person. She has studied at universities in Shanghai, Weimar and Yogyakarta. The Indonesian Ministry of Public Works and Housing hired her as a technical planner and assistant water utilisation planning manager. In 2015, they gave her permission to ‘take a break’ to undertake PhD research at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). And with good reason.
“The threat posed by the volcano is very real, and the ministry needs solid answers to a lot of questions. The Merapi volcano, located only thirty kilometres from the centre of Yogyakarta, is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the word. Once every two to four years small eruptions take place, and at least once every century a major eruption occurs. The eruption of 2010 made it clear that preparations were inadequate: more than 300 people died and the debris flows caused massive devastation.”
Respect for Javanese beliefs and rituals
Vicky, as a planner, focuses on ‘lahar’: a mudflow created when lava comes in contact with a river or lake, thus creates life-threatening mudflows. Vicky: “The government has several master plans to prevent hazards and protect water recourses in cases of eruption. But there are several ministries involved, and their views on this issue vary. Even more importantly, they all take a technical approach to the issue. I believe we can benefit when cultural elements are also considered. Yogyakarta is a very old kingdom, ruled by a Sultan.”
“The people have lived with the threat of volcanoes for centuries. There is ancient wisdom we can draw on. For instance: for centuries, successive Sultans have always made sure there is a clear, cosmological axis in the line Merapi – Yogyakarta – Indian Ocean. This allows people to keep an eye on the Merati. This is a good example of spatial knowledge in disaster management based on cultural values. A more cultural approach to the subject also means we respect the beliefs, rituals and local calendar of the Javanese. And this means people are more willing to collaborate.”
A hot topic
It’s no accident that Vicky chose EUR for her research. “The Dutch have great knowledge of water management. My main reason to come here was my supervisor, Professor Jurian Edelenbos. He is one of the best researchers in the field of water governance.”
The significance of Vicky’s research transcends that of the Marapi region. “Indonesia alone has over 150 volcanoes. However, volcano or not, the outcomes of my research can be used for water management projects all over the world. Water is a very hot topic now that sea levels are rising. How do you deal with that? I think the best way is to incorporate cultural settings into technical plans.”
Vicky finds Erasmus University a very refreshing environment. “It feels like a big, international family, very friendly and relaxed. I especially like that you don’t need to think only inside your own box. There are no limits, and you can study every aspect you think is worthwhile.”
Soon, Vicky leaves to study in the field. “I will study the old books of the Sultans, but also oral history. My biggest challenge? That will come when I have finished my research and return to my job at the ministry. I have to convince the officials that a cultural approach is not a dead-end, and gain the trust of the local people. I know it is possible.”
“When we built a dam in Indonesia, we collaborated with the local farmers. We took their local calendar into consideration, respected sacred ground and performed rituals. They promised to keep their grounds green and not use pesticides. Both parties listened to each other, with great effect.”