Staff Writer | Palladium - Apr 21 2020
"Be Ready": Supporting Indonesia's COVID-19 Task Force

The Australian-Indonesian Partnership in Disaster Risk Management was launched in November 2019 and less than four months later, put to a crucial test with the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Partnership, known as SIAP SIAGA (which means “be ready” in Indonesian) was established to work with the Government of Indonesia to strengthen disaster management in the country, and engagement between Australia and Indonesia on disaster management across the region.

“Indonesia is in a difficult position when it comes to COVID-19,” says Anthony Carrigan, Palladium Project Director of SIAP SIAGA. “It’s a populous country of over 267 million, with a relatively untested public health system, a likelihood of widespread infection even before the pandemic, and many vulnerable people.”

To compound matters, Indonesia is one of most disaster-prone countries in the world, reporting almost 2,000 natural disasters in 2018 that claimed nearly 4,000 lives and displaced 3 million people. The country sits on the “Ring of Fire” – a path of tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean that accounts for 75% of the world’s volcanoes and 90% of the world’s earthquakes. The pandemic presents a more protracted and complex crisis than even those.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Indonesia came on 02 March 2020, after which the Indonesia National Disaster Management Agency was charged with leading a national Task Force to tackle the outbreak. SIAP SIAGA pivoted its operations, tripling its workforce to provide the Task Force with additional support.

“We began working around the clock,” Carrigan describes, “contributing to communication and information management, planning and situation analysis, operations, and providing specialist guidance across areas of public health and social protection.”

According to Carrigan, the program’s ability to adapt quickly and effectively can be credited to two factors, the first of which is the team involved.
“The project is fortunate to be operating in an environment staffed by individuals seasoned in crisis response,” he says. “Resilience in the face of adversity is difficult to plan for, and having client, partner, and delivery staff attuned to rapid change and potentially traumatic events has meant for smoother, more effective program delivery”.

The second factor is an early commitment from the client, the team, and partners to Adaptive Management.

“Adaptive management has been a byword in project management for years, and is well-suited to the complexity and uncertainty of the types of large-scale social projects Palladium takes on,” Carrigan explains. “Now, in the midst of this pandemic, governments around the world are quickly feeling out the limitations of more prescriptive response plans – if they even have them in place – and adaptation and real-time learning are the leading strategies.”

This adaptive management approach undertaken has included five key characteristics:

  • An enabling environment, including trust between partners, and an awareness of the strengths and constraints in the current disaster response system.

  • The project management framework in place from the outset and systems including efficient screening, procurement activity, and approval and accountability lines. Budgets and workplans are maintained to the minute to allow for flexibility and transparency in spend.

  • Decision making has been considered, swift, and delegated effectively within each of the operating entities. “DFAT has been responsive as a funder and partner in their willingness to listen, assess, and make decisions in real time,” says Carrigan. “Similarly, key partners in the Indonesian Government Task Force have been open about their needs, and in their planning and requests.”

  • A core team in place from the outset has allowed for an immediate ramp up of specialist skills and enabled quality checks and selection decisions to happen very quickly. “Honest assessments are being made of immediate, short, and long-term requirements,” Carrigan describes. “It’s noteworthy that all requests for assistance are being considered but not all are being met through SIAP SIAGA.”

  • Regular, distilled learnings and context analysis have been crucial, particularly in the face of a flood of data, new staff, and opinions. “Establishing an effective learning structure and output in the first weeks was challenging,” recalls Carrigan. “we are hopeful that our constant learning and analysis will ensure that the lessons will have the greatest impact when the program moves beyond COVID-19.”

This undertaking is immense, requiring Government, bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors, NGOs, and the private sector to work together to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. But while daunting, SIAP SIAGA and its partners are creating a foundation on which Indonesia will build resilience for the future.

The Australian-Indonesian Partnership in Disaster Risk Management (SIAP SIAGA) is funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and implemented by Palladium. Contact to learn more.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Australia and the Government of Indonesia.