Environment and Disaster Management
    Disaster Waste Management:
    Lessons Learnt from Banda Aceh, Indonesia
    Hari Srinivas
    Case Study Series C-045
    Much attention has been paid to the human tragedy resulting from the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami. But the environmental impacts of the disaster, particularly in terms of the challenges faced as a result of the enormous amount of debris generated, provide important lessons for disaster waste "preparedness" for similar vulnerable cities and regions.

    This document explores the challenges faced by the city of Banda Aceh, Indonesia in clearing the earthquake and tsunami debris. It looks at the actions taken by both the Government of Indonesia and international agencies/NGOs, and proposes a number of recommendations on the proper handling and management of disaster debris.

    Lessons learnt from Banda Aceh's response call for the setting up of a long-term debris management plan, that include arranging mutual aid arrangements between neighbouring cities, updating the city's overall waste management, a community communication strategy creating an inventory of heavy equipment available for use, identifying a temporary collection site for debris, and the proper handling of hazardous and toxic wastes.

    Indian Ocean Tsunami, environmental impacts, tsunami debris management, lessons learnt

    Understanding Disaster Waste Characteristics

    The impacts of disasters, whether natural or man-made, not only have human dimensions, but environmental ones as well. Environmental conditions may exacerbate the impact of a disaster, and vice versa, disasters have an impact on the environment (UNDAC 2005). Deforestation, forest management practices, agriculture systems etc. can exacerbate the negative environmental impacts of a storm or typhoon, leading to landslides, flooding, silting and ground/surface water contamination. A disaster event is, after all, an indicator that something is not right with our environment (UNEP IETC, 2009).

    Within the various impacts of a disaster on the local environment, the high volume of wastes from disasters, from households and debris from the disaster's impacts, constitute a particularly critical environmental aspect of disaster management(Baycan and Peterson, n.d.). As highlighted by Tsunami in Banda Aceh, disasters can generate enormous volumes of debris, including soil and sediments, building rubble such as brick, concrete and timber, vegetation such as leaves, branches and trees, , hazardous and toxic materials such as oil drums, asbestos or batteries, mixed-up domestic and clinical wastes and, all too often, human and animal remains (UNEP 2005).

    In many cases, this waste presents a risk to human health from biological sources, for example, flies, rodents, rotting carcasses; chemical sources such as asbestos, oils, solvents; and physical sources such as cuts, abrasions, collapse. Debris also impedes pedestrian and vehicle access and blocks urban services such as drains, sewers (EPA, 1999).

    Disaster debris need to be handled in an environmentally sound manner including proper handling of scrap metals, for example copper, steel, aluminium, timber for reconstruction and cooking, demolition waste from buildings/structures for re-use, re-working as an aggregate or infilling/protection material, and uncontaminated soil/sediment for restoration or in-filling (UNEP 2005). In many cases, however, disaster debris place an additional burden on a nation or community already struggling to cope from the humanitarian aspects of the disaster.

    Disasters and Debris

    The amount and type of debris generated from a typical disaster varies from situation to situation. Table 1 outlines many of the types of debris that are created by different disasters (ACWMA 2005, EPA 1999, OES 2005 and UNOCHA 2008)

    Table 1: Disasters and Disaster Types
    Natural Disasters
    Man-Made Disasters
    • Tsunamis: Widespread deposition of wastes on coastal fringes, and potentially pan-oceanic, including sub-sea deposition

    • Earthquakes: Localized generation of building material waste (and sediment from landslides) from seismic activity

    • Floods: Generally localized generation of soil, sediment and building material waste

    • Hurricanes: High-velocity winds and storm surge generally impact region of first landfall with high volumes of building material and vegetation waste being generated

    • Forest Fires: Although low volumes of waste are generated, includes building material waste; de-vegetated slopes are more vulnerable to mud-slides/landslides
    • Industrial Accidents: Generally localized, waste types dependent on chemical release (or combustion by-product)

    • Dam Breaches: Similar to flood above

    • Conflicts: Bomb-damaged buildings (domestic and industrial) potentially impacted by depleted uranium (DU) and unexploded ordinance (UXO)

    In most cases, the debris is of mixed type - solid wastes are mixed with vegetative and other materials, making their processing, recycling and reuse more difficult

    In complex situations where a cascading set of disasters occur, such as the situation that Banda Aceh faced, there is a broader range of disaster debris deposited in a larger area that need to be properly cleared and disposed.

    Tsunami-generated Debris in Banda Aceh

    It was estimated that 4.7 million tonnes of recyclable debris resulted from the damaged buildings and infrastructure in the Aceh Province. These wastes included brick and concrete blocks that were deposited around the buildings destroyed and damaged by the tsunami, and wastes generated prior to reconstruction works (UNEP IETC 2009). They included those derived from damaged buildings such as domestic housing and commercial buildings, and infrastructure including roads and bridges .

    Efforts were made by international organizations such as UNDP and UNEP, and the local government to collect, separate and recycle/reuse the debris (UNDAC 2005). The recycling of debris provided many benefits, including reduction of environmental risks, support and accelerate reconstruction works, sustainable employment generation, and demonstration and awareness-raising in waste recycling.

    Number of buildings destroyed

    Comprehensive data on destroyed buildings/houses in Banda Aceh was not identified and analyzed; however, the Dept of Urban Planning and Housing (Dinas Perkotaan dan Permukiman, DPP) Banda Aceh estimated that 17,286 new houses were required to be built to replace the destroyed houses. JICA URPP team and Dinas Kebersihan dan Pertamanan (DKP), the Cleansing Department that is responsible for managing municipal wastes, estimated that Banda Aceh population in 2006 was 212,893, and the number of houses approximately 43,000 units (UNEP IETC 2009). This means that more than 40 percent of the houses/building in Banda Aceh were destroyed during the tsunami disaster.

    In comparison, Banda Aceh's population in 2005 was 177,881, and comprised of 35.557 households. This dramatic increase was caused by urbanization and overall economic development. Furthermore DPP Banda Aceh also estimated that out of the required new houses, 3,630 (8.4 percent) units were reserved for low-income households.

    Estimating the volume of debris generated by the tsunami and earthquake

    Most of the damaged and destroyed houses were either traditional wood houses (containing about 70 percent wood, 15 percent roof tiles and the remaining being mixed materials); or modern brick and concrete houses (containing 65 percent brick/concrete, 15 percent wood 10 percent roof tiles/sheets, and remaining being mixed materials).

    Table 2 presents the summary of calculated debris' weight and volume generated during the tsunami disaster in Banda Aceh.

    Weight of debris
    Single-storied house
    Single storied brick and concrete house
    Single storied commercial establishment
    Multi storied commercial establishment
    Table 2. Estimated debris generated during earthquake
    and tsunami in Banda Aceh, 2004.

    The estimated volume of waste generated from damaged buildings was 725,840 m3. This amount did not include foundations of the buildings. Assuming that the foundation volume is about 15 percent of the total mass volume of a building, then the volume of the foundation alone was about 128,090m3. The total volume of tsunami waste generated from destroyed building was approximately 853,930m3.

    The tsunami waves also scoured the bottom of the near shore, roads, bridges, vegetation and soil/mud from land when it moved inland, and swept away the debris when it moved back into the ocean. The international NGO, Oxfam GB, estimated that approximately 50 percent of the tsunami waste consisted of soil/mud/solids (30 percent) and vegetation (21 percent). This approximation was likely based on the estimate of waste already dumped in temporary dump sites. Using these figures, the total estimated volume of tsunami waste generated in Banda Aceh then becomes 1,742,714 m3. It was also estimated that parts of the tsunami waste were swept away by the backward wave to the sea, leaving approximately 35 percent on the land, or 603,495 m3 of mixed waste.

    The above calculations illustrate the huge challenge faced by the Banda Aceh municipality to properly dispose the debris from the disaster. This presented a scenario that was well beyond the existing capacities of the waste management agency. It also presents a picture of the potential for recycling and reuse of the debris for various recovery and reconstruction purposes.

    Along with the humanitarian effort put in place to help the residents of Banda Aceh, parallel efforts by the United Nations and international NGOs was mounted not only to clear this debris, but also generate livelihood options for the affected population (as cash-for-work programmes) and generate raw materials for reconstruction of infrastructure in the area.

    Problems and Barriers Encountered in Banda Aceh

    Besides UN agencies such as UNDP, UNEP and others, a number of other organizations, including GTZ, Oxfam, and local governments such as Rotterdam, were involved in debris management efforts either directly, or as parts of larger programmes in recovery and reconstruction.

    Most worked with Banda Aceh's DKP in various aspects of disaster debris management, such as identifying and managing temporary dump sites, designating debris collection points, renewing the existing dumpsite of Banda Aceh to receive tsunami debris, identifying new dumpsites, and recycling of wastes for livelihood (for example, recycling wood to build furniture, reusing recovered bricks for construction, and crushing concrete blocks to make river embankments)

    As these efforts were put in place over the weeks and months after the disaster, it enabled Banda Aceh's local government and DKP to get a better understanding of the various aspects of comprehensive debris management. In retrospect, local officials shared their experiences on the issues and challenges that they faced, which could have been avoided if there was better awareness and debris "preparedness."

    Over a series of interviews and brain-storming meetings, a number of issues were raised by the officials, This section is based on interviews and brain storming meetings organized in 2007 (April and September) 2008 (March, June and October), 2009 (July and September) and 2010 (March) with local government officials and staff members of the local branch of DKP in Banda Aceh. Individuals interviewed include the mayor of Banda Aceh, Mr. Mawardi Nurdin and vice-mayor Mr. Illiza Saaduddin. DKP staff members Mr. Teuku Zul Akhyar and Mr. Mirza Yanto were also interviewed for their views and insights. Besides these interviews, a total of six public workshops and seminars were organized in 2007, 2008 and 2009 with the Ministry of Environment of the Indonesian Government and the local government of Banda Aceh.

    The above interactions provided highlights of the problems that local officials had faced and ways it could have been avoided:

    1. There was no effort to estimate the magnitude and composition of likely wastes from a range of disaster scenarios. Attention should have been given to components with potential health and environmental impacts such as chemical contamination from commercial premises, wastes from health care institutions, asbestos and other substances commonly included in buildings, spilt fuels and oils, agricultural chemicals from stores and farms. Also included was damage to waste disposal facilities themselves, such as floods sweeping away a garbage dumpsite. Wastes arising from chemical or fuel spills should also have been considered.

    2. Despite awareness in the region to earthquakes and related disasters, the vulnerability of municipal and commercial waste facilities, including landfills and dump sites, to natural disasters by themselves was not considered. Landfills on low-lying ground, transfer stations on the shoreline, wastewater treatment plants were just some examples cited.

    3. Potential temporary storage or disposal areas for large volumes of inert solid debris close to where such waste might be generated - i.e. towns and industrial zones, were not identified. Figure 1 shows the temporary site that was setup in Banda Aceh to collect and process debris. It is unlikely that debris will be carried very far during a time of crisis, and therefore such sites would have been critical to collect debris in an organized manner.

      Figure 1: Temporary site for collected debris

    4. Additional removal, transport and handling personnel and heavy equipment that might be needed were not requisitioned. In effect, emergency services should have had a stand-by list of resources able to address immediately the waste management functions, and know the land areas available for storage/disposal.

      Figure 2: Workshop recycling wood debris to make furniture

    5. Possible separation and recovery of potentially valuable waste components are important aspects that were not considered. As well as providing secondary materials for reconstruction, such operations would have provided some employment relief for households who have otherwise lost their livelihood. Figure 2 shows a workshop set up by international organizations for recycling wood debris to make furniture. Ownership, resale or donation conditions of such recovered waste should also ideally be pre-determined during the planning process to avoid unpleasant situations during the crisis.

    6. Considering the potentially huge volume of debris to be cleared, there was no effort to explore the possibility of training non-waste personnel in the local government to assume waste management functions during a crisis.

    7. Besides debris directly resulting from the disaster, anticipation and identifying wastes that might arise from a large-scale disaster relief operation, especially medical, health-care wastes and any equipment that would be eventually be discarded, was not considered.

    8. The Banda Aceh's DKP realized early on that large industrial sites cause especially difficult circumstances as regular municipal authorities have little experience in handling the debris from industrial plants. While the expertise in the industry can assist, there were legal liability questions, and a lack of facilities that could accommodate such special wastes, that were not explicitly planned for.

      Figure 3: Uncollected municipal wastes during the recovery phases

    9. Integration of normal municipal waste generated during the emergency period into the waste management efforts was not carried out, creating additional problems for recovery and reconstruction. Figure 3 illustrates the problem of uncollected municipal wastes during the recovery phases. This had had to be managed at the same time as the debris.

    10. Banda Aceh's garbage dump is located very close to the sea shore, and the initial back waves of the tsunami carried away much of this waste and debris into the ocean. Very little effort was made both by the government agencies and international organizations to clear this debris, except those that were re-deposited on the city's shores (UNDAC 2005). The debris seriously affected marine ecosystems and aquatic life, also resulting in disruption to livelihoods that depended on them.

    In summary, the following ideas were raised during the interviews and workshops/seminars that ought to have been incorporated in plans for disaster debris management:

    • maintaining close links with disaster management agencies, and ensuring that waste management is incorporated into overall emergency plans

    • nominating stand-by waste personnel and equipment and ensuring training and practice, as in normal emergency management

    • identifying temporary waste handling locations

    • incorporating disaster mitigation measures in the design and operation of waste management facilities

    • elaborating special emergency waste systems for sensitive installations such as hospitals

    • incorporating disaster wastes into the scenario for overall waste planning at national and local levels

    Lessons Learnt in Managing Disaster Wastes

    A detailed evaluation of the debris management efforts carried out by the local government and international organizations highlights a number of lessons that can be effectively used by similar vulnerable cities and communities in managing disaster debris.

    The strategies and approaches presented below were developed during interactive planning sessions between international waste experts and local government staff members for future waste preparedness and planning action for recovery. These lessons are useful for local and national governments that are developing action plans for disaster preparedness and recovery.

    Making a Long-term Debris Management Plan

    There is a need for increasing existing emergency planning to include long-term debris management. Because natural disasters can generate tremendous quantities of debris, cities and communities should plan for the worst case. As illustrated by the situation that Banda Aceh faced, any such plan should include a detailed strategy for debris collection, temporary storage and staging areas, recycling, disposal, hazardous waste identification and handling, administration, and dissemination of information to the public.

    The plan and work involved needs to be distributed to personnel from all concerned local agencies to ensure that it is implemented quickly and smoothly. The plan also needs to be reviewed and revised at least once a year as needed, in consultation and concert with larger efforts on disaster preparedness.

    Considering Mutual Aid Arrangements

    Mutual aid arrangements between nearby cities and communities are an important strategy to allow quick access to specialized personnel or equipment on a short-term basis. This allows sparse and expensive equipment to be shared between cities and regions. Usually the host city pays for the expenses of personnel as well as any maintenance or repair costs for equipment. These agreements can be developed for a local geographic area or can extend to cities in other provinces as well.

    Implementing Recycling Programmes

    Implementing a plan for recycling disaster debris is much easier if a city or community already has a recycling program in place. As a result, permits, enforcement, collection, processing, and marketing issues will already have been largely resolved . After a disaster, the city will be faced with expanding current recycling practices rather than designing and implementing new practices. It is much easier to expand existing capacities and markets than to start these endeavors in the wake of a disaster.

    Updating the City's Solid Waste Management Plan

    It is important that a city's overall solid waste management plan reflect current practices and policies, especially those that apply in disaster situations. The plan is an official document that often is filed with the city office. Efforts to develop Banda Aceh's waste management plan was still being designed when the disaster struck the city.

    It can also be beneficial to share the plan with private contractors and other community agencies (e.g., fire and police) that in the event of a disaster could potentially be involved in solid waste management services. Should a disaster occur, supporting agencies would find the plan useful because it describes established practices and policies, as well as the types, locations, and capacities of existing solid waste recycling and disposal facilities.

    Developing a Communication Strategy

    A communication strategy needs to be prepared ahead of time. Government officials will need to tell the community when, where, and how waste collection will resume, as well as provide special instructions for reporting and sorting disaster debris. For example, cities and communities can prepare radio announcements and flyers as part of their emergency plan.

    As was seen in Banda Aceh, a city or community may however, lose electricity, telephone service, radio broadcasting capability, or newspaper service. Therefore, there should be more than one method of communication. Local media also need to be involved in communicating instructions in the event of a disaster.

    Preparing for Increased Outreach and Enforcement Staffing Needs

    In the aftermath of the disaster, waste management staff in Banda Aceh were overwhelmed by the demands placed on them to clear the debris. Much of their own equipment and facilities were destroyed by the disaster, further reducing their capacities. They realized that they must handle an increased number of requests concerning waste removal, staff to train and monitor debris collection contractors, enforce disposal restrictions, and help solve implementation problems. The use of members of the community itself as a temporary source of labour was considered, especially for low-income households.

    Obtaining Equipment and Supplies

    Officials in Banda Aceh mentioned that there was a need to identify in advance the types of equipment and supplies that waste teams will need to implement the plan. Quick procurement of these items through mutual aid agreements or standing contracts with the private sector, or stockpiling such equipment should be considered and planned for. If stockpiling is too expensive for one city alone, perhaps a group of neghbouring cities could stockpile the equipment.

    Types of equipment that a community might need include chain saws, portable generators, cellular phones, flashlights, batteries, vehicle repair equipment, and extra work clothing. For example, a local government that routinely stores drinking water (e.g., for its solid waste collection crews) might want to make sure that water supplies are well-stocked.

    Selecting Collection and Storage Sites

    The most common suggestion made was to pre-select debris collection sites that could be used for temporary storage and processing of debris. Convenient local sites allow collection crews to reduce travel time when transferring debris to processing or disposal facilities and result in faster street clearing.

    Sites are selected based on planned activities, such as collection, storage, sorting, recycling, landfilling, and burning of debris where feasible. Pre-selection of sites speeds the implementation of the debris management plan. It was clear from the experiences of Banda Aceh that access to heavy equipment, lack of impact on environmentally sensitive areas, and convenience to collection routes, need to be considered.

    If residents are to be asked to bring disaster debris to collection sites, the city should include these locations in its disaster communication strategy, so that information is immediately available to the public in the event of a disaster.

    Determining Management Options and Goals

    After the initial response phases in Banda Aceh, collection and storage of debris in temporary sites was carried out quickly, but a proper disposal strategy was not put in place. Clearly, any disaster debris management plan should also include a final disposal strategy, including priorities for recycling wastes and determining the desired disposal options for the remaining waste.

    Segregating Hazardous and Toxic Waste

    In Banda Aceh, a number of hazardous and toxic wastes such as asbestos, paints and oils, petrol, chemicals etc. were mixed up with ordinary debris. Plans were put in place to manage these only after it was pointed out by international experts. The lesson learnt here was that segregation of hazardous from non-hazardous disaster debris should be carried out right at the beginning in order to avoid contamination of mixed wastes. Waste handlers need to understand these requirements as well as have a plan for controlling and diverting hazardous waste from the debris stream.

    Taken together, these lessons learnt present important building blocks for an effective waste management mechanism that is able to respond to and manage disaster wastes effectively and efficiently.

    Ultimately, preparing a disaster debris management plan in advance can pay off in the event of a natural disaster. Such planning can help a city or community identify its debris collection, recycling, and disposal options. Although the recovery process can take a long time, perhaps even years, careful planning will prevent costly mistakes, speed recovery, and avoid creation of more waste. A plan also can save money by identifying cost-effective debris management options and sources of help, increasing control over debris management in the city or community, and improving administrative efficiency.


    • ACWMA (2005) "Alameda County Disaster Waste Management Plan" Alameda County Waste Management Authority

    • Baycan, Filiz and Peterson, Martin (n.d.) "Disaster Waste Management - C&D Waste" Ankara: Ministry of Environment, Turkey.

    • EPA (1999), "Planning for Disaster Debris" US Environmental Protection Bureau,

    • OES (2005) Debris Management in Disaster Recovery" Response and Recovery Division, California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, January 2005

    • UNDAC (2005), "Indian Ocean Tsunami Disaster of December 2004: UNDAC Rapid Environmental Assessment of Aceh, Indonesia" Geneva: United Nations Disaster Assistance Coordination

    • UNEP (2005), "United Nations Post-Tsunami Waste Management Plan" Geneva: United Nations Environment Programme

    • UNEP IETC (1995), "Proceedings of the Earthquake Waste Symposium". Osaka: United Nations Environment Programme, Japan 12-13 June 1995

    • UNEP IETC (2009), "Final Report: Demonstrating ESTs for Building waste Reduction in Indonesia" Osaka: United Nations Environment Programme

    • UNOCHA-UNEP JEU (2008), "Disaster Waste Management Guidelines" Geneva: UNOCHA-UNEP Joint Environment Unit
NOTE: An earlier version of this document was published as Srinivas, Hari and Farhan Helmy, "Disaster Waste Management: Lessons Learnt from Banda Aceh, Indonesia" in a collected edition - Recovery from the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Ten Years Journey, Springer Books.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org