The warias of Indonesia in disaster risk reduction: the case of the 2010 Mt Merapi eruption in Indonesia

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This article is relevant for humanitarian practitioners because it focuses fully on diverse SOGIESC inclusion in the Mt Merapi response in Indonesia, specifically on the experiences of waria community members.

This paper investigates the experiences of warias, a distinct group within the diverse SOGIESC community, in the aftermath of the 2010 eruption of Mt Merapi in Central Java. Warias, a cohesive group of people who are assigned male at birth but have adopted distinctly feminine identities, have a distinct subculture in Indonesia. While warias are in some respects an accepted social group, they continue to experience exclusion, discrimination and harassment. This extends to disaster-response efforts.

Mt Merapi erupted on 26 October 2010, blowing hot ash, lava fragment sand gas into nearby villages; the eruption continued until 4 November, at which point the volcanic flows reached 15km from the cone. Disaster plans in Indonesia, as in many countries, are made in urban centres rather than in impacted communities, meaning the response was designed far away from where it was implemented. It did not attend to the specific needs of warias. Hundreds of thousands of people were re-located to temporary emergency shelters. Warias were rendered invisible in the aftermath of the eruption. Relocation site supervisors did not know whether warias were present because intake forms offer only binary gender options. A local waria leader noted that waria preferred not to stay in temporary shelters due to (justified) fears of discrimination. Waria instead stayed with friends. Despite being made invisible in the official processes, waria were active in recovery efforts.

A local diverse SOGIESC advocacy organisation, People Like Us (PLU), visited evacuation sites that had received little attending from the government or other NGOs. Given the financial precarity of many waria, they were not able to financially contribute to these communities, but supported evacuees in other ways.

The actions of the waria community reflect two important considerations for DRR planning: the first is to ensure warias, and other members of the diverse SOGIESC community, are able to safely access temporary shelter and emergency services without the fear of discrimination or harassment; the second is to invite traditionally marginalised groups such as the waria into decision making spaces for DRR planning and relief efforts. In this instance, waria collectivised and provided much-needed services to underserved evacuees, thus promoting human rights and dignity in the wake of a devastating emergency. The waria supported the needs of evacuees despite facing neglect and social discrimination themselves.

The issues discussed in this article raise important questions around the ways in which DRR planners and responders can consider the unique needs and unique skills of people with diverse SOGIESC in the face of disasters.

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" Marginalised groups, including the warias, are often aware of their weaknesses, resources, and strengths. The issue most often is having these capacities recognised by the state, scientists, NGOs, and external relief agencies among others, so that these capacities can be tapped for DRR."

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This paper investigates the experiences of warias, a distinct group within the diverse SOGIESC community, in the aftermath of the 2010 eruption of Mt Merapi in Central Java. Warias, a cohesive group of people who are assigned male at birth but have adopted distinctly feminine identities, have a distinct subculture in Indonesia. While warias are in some respects an accepted social group, they continue to experience exclusion, discrimination and harassment. This extends to disaster-response efforts.

Mt Merapi erupted on 26 October 2010, blowing hot ash, lava fragment sand gas into nearby villages; the eruption continued until 4 November, at which point the volcanic flows reached 15km from the cone. Disaster plans in Indonesia, as in many countries, are made in urban centres rather than in impacted communities, meaning the response was designed far away from where it was implemented. It did not attend to the specific needs of warias. Hundreds of thousands of people were re-located to temporary emergency shelters. Warias were rendered invisible in the aftermath of the eruption. Relocation site supervisors did not know whether warias were present because intake forms offer only binary gender options. A local waria leader noted that waria preferred not to stay in temporary shelters due to (justified) fears of discrimination. Waria instead stayed with friends. Despite being made invisible in the official processes, waria were active in recovery efforts.

A local diverse SOGIESC advocacy organisation, People Like Us (PLU), visited evacuation sites that had received little attending from the government or other NGOs. Given the financial precarity of many waria, they were not able to financially contribute to these communities, but supported evacuees in other ways.

The actions of the waria community reflect two important considerations for DRR planning: the first is to ensure warias, and other members of the diverse SOGIESC community, are able to safely access temporary shelter and emergency services without the fear of discrimination or harassment; the second is to invite traditionally marginalised groups such as the waria into decision making spaces for DRR planning and relief efforts. In this instance, waria collectivised and provided much-needed services to underserved evacuees, thus promoting human rights and dignity in the wake of a devastating emergency. The waria supported the needs of evacuees despite facing neglect and social discrimination themselves.

The issues discussed in this article raise important questions around the ways in which DRR planners and responders can consider the unique needs and unique skills of people with diverse SOGIESC in the face of disasters.