Yogyakarta, Indonesia is a battered town, inhabited by weary citizens, that have been battling the elements since the beginning of the year. Earlier in May, the international media became alarmed when Mount Merapi, one of Indonesia’s two most active volcanoes, began showing signs of active seismic activities which could lead to an eruption.
Then, when all eyes are focused on Merapi, a 6.2 Richter scale earthquake struck the region of Bantul, in the early morning of May 27 2006. A popular tourist spot, Bantul is located about 25 km south of the historic city of Yogyakarta.
The international media soon rushed to report on the devastation and the loss of nearly 6000 lives. Aid organizations from neighboring countries made their way to provide the first aid assistance, with tasks ranging from saving human lives to ensuring that the survivors receive basic necessities such as food and shelter.
When the dust settled, Yogyakarta, one of the main tourist destinations in Indonesia, faced the uncertainty that follows a terrible tragedy. Several major hotel properties and tourist attractions had to be closed down for repair. Tourists adopt a wait and see attitude, reluctant to make their way to this embattled city. Yogyakarta certainly has a tough time ahead in welcoming back visitors and working on reassuring them of their safety and security.
Misconceptions About the Earthquake
Even before the earthquake, many visitors were apprehensive about visiting Yogyakarta due to the rumblings of Mount Merapi. They were concerned with the close proximity of the city to the volcano that lies only 20 miles south of the city. They remained adamant with their views even when the authority gave reassurance that the city would not be in any danger in the event of an eruption. There was also talk of tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters occurring in tandem with the eruption.
When the earthquake struck, it was not surprising when many people came to the conclusion that it was due to the volcanic activities of Mount Merapi. Scientists have since confirmed that the earthquake was a completely separate event, caused by the steady movement of tectonic plates between Australia and India, and a completely normal, if badly timed natural occurrence in tectonically-active Indonesia.
The earthquake destroyed and damaged several towns and countless villages around the province, though most of the major devastation was centered on the Bantul region itself. Fatalities were estimated at around 6, 000 with over 20, 000 injured and nearly 200, 000 made homeless. Further away, the damage became progressively lighter with minor structural fracture and non-fatal injuries.
Effects of the Earthquake in Yogyakarta
That’s not to say that the effects of the earthquake weren’t felt in Yogyakarta. On the day of the quake itself, thousands of residents and tourists were forced to abandon their homes and accommodation by the sheer strength of the tremors . A number of buildings in the city were damaged, though only a few areas were seriously affected. Among the tourist attractions affected were Prawirotaman, a street popular for souvenirs and handicrafts shops, which was reduced to little more than collapsed piles of rubble, and the Kraton, or the Sultan’s Palace, which suffered cracks in its walls and is now temporarily closed for repairs.
In other parts of the city however, the only visible damage was fallen roof tiles and cracked walls. Most of the major attractions were spared from any significant damage – Kota Gede, a silver handicrafts centre, is still open as usual, while Malioboro Street, another popular souvenir-hunting area, is practically unscathed. Perhaps most heartening of all is that many of the ancient temples and monuments surrounding Yogyakarta, such as Borobudur and Ratu Boko, are completely undisturbed, remaining as always a testament to the ingenuity and skills of their builders.
In addition, just three weeks after the quake, many of the hotels, restaurants and other businesses are already back in operation. In the weeks after the earthquake, most hotels reported occupancy rates of up to 70%, indicating that many of their guests had chosen to continue with their plans to visit Yogyakarta. Many of the tourist attractions such as Kraton or the Water Palace are also undergoing extensive repair and should open for visitors as usual within the next few months. Indeed, the citizens of this beautiful, historical city is adamant that life should return to normal and unless one visits the worst-affected areas, it is quite difficult to imagine that not that long ago, Yogyakarta was hit by a devastating earthquake.
Helping Yogyakarta in the Aftermath
Even though Yogyakarta has escaped major damage from the earthquake, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is understandably concerned with any drop in tourism arrival to the city as the tourism industry accounts for almost 20% of the province’s income. One of the immediate action taken was the setting up of a Java Crisis – Tourism Media Centre on 28 May 2006, the day after the earthquake. Its main task was to assist in the rescue and aid of any affected tourists in the vicinity. Its secondary role is to ensure that the necessary steps are being taken to ensure that Yogyakarta would soon return to its status as Indonesia’s main cultural destination and heartland of the Javanese culture. The Centre also has a website (www.javacrisismediacenter.com) which keeps track of the ongoing repair work of the city’s tourist attractions and information on which hotels are in operation and their occupancy rates, making it an invaluable resource center for visitors to Yogyakarta.