In the past half year Sulawesi is hit by several natural disasters. Starting with the Palu earthquake and tsunami, followed by the Soputan volcano eruption in the north and the recent flooding around Makassar area. Repeated questions from friends, family and (future) guests about the situation in the Togean Islands triggered to dig into it and try to create a clear picture of the current situation.
The main thing is, the Togean Islands were not affected at all, same as Tana Toraja, Lake Poso, Bunaken, Manado and 99% of other Sulawesi territory. The tsunami and the flooding were terrible local events in which many people lost their homes or even their lives. This gave the perception that all of Sulawesi is a mess, which I dare say is far from the truth.
One of the aspects that did not help in the perception of the situation in Sulawesi is the way the events were published in the Western news. The Soputan volcano eruption was picked as ‘the next big disaster in Sulawesi’ (‘Indonesia Rocked by Volcano, Days After Earthquake Killed More Than 1,200 (Bloomberg)’ and ‘Indonesia’s Mount Soputan erupts on tsunami-hit island’), but in reality no one was hurt or even needed to be evacuated.
The second, but probably most influential aspect, is the perception of size. If Indonesia is seen as a country, Sulawesi is just one of the islands in this country. But realize that Sulawesi is the 11th biggest island in the world, looking at landmass it is just slightly smaller than Great Britain (Sulawesi’s size is 86% that of Great Britain).
The distance between locations of the events as described above can be compared to the distances between Amsterdam, Paris and Milan. Question then is, are the conditions in these cities good indicators of the situation in Frankfurt, the relative location of Togean Islands in this example?
Was the earthquake or any of these events noticed at the Togean Islands?
The Palu earthquake was felt as a little tremble. At that moment we even debated whether it was actually an earthquake or not. Only later we found out what had actually happened. What affected us most was the uncertainty of the condition of friends and relatives in the affected area. One of our staff was in Palu at the time taking some time off. It were tense days, but luckily we quickly got all the updates that everyone was safe.
Is there any risk of natural disaster in the Togean Islands?
Let’s start to say that we don’t have any scientific background on the topic, but some online research and chats with local elders does help to be able to say something about it. The chance a tsunami would hit the Togean Islands is very small (click here for a scientific approach). According to the mentioned paper the probability of a tsunami hitting the Togean archipelago on a yearly basis is smaller than 0.001%. As far as we know, talking to people that lived here for a long time, there are no recordings of a tsunami.
The position of the islands is quite different from Palu. It’s on the other side of the Sulawesi mainland, located in a large secluded bay. A recent article on the Palu tsunami reports that it is probably caused by a very rare ‘supershear’ event. Inclining that the chance of a similar event happening again is very, very small.
In respect of volcanic activity, again we don’t hold any scientific titles, but we can say something. Una Una is a volcanic island and in 1983 the Colo volcano erupted. At that time more than 7000 people inhabited the island, and everyone was evacuated in time. The eruption was preceded by weeks of progressively intensifying earthquakes.
Currently less than 1000 people inhabit the island, families slowly moved back to Una Una after the eruption, but many settled in the surrounding area. Nowadays the Indonesian monitoring of volcanic activity is much more sophisticated than it was in the 1980s. Mount Colo is now closely monitored and there haven’t been any signs that indicate increasing activity.
Main thing now is that the mount Colo caldera can be reached by an impressive half day hike, following riverbeds and crossing dense jungle, creating a proper Jurassic Park atmosphere!
What is the current situation in Togean Islands and Sulawesi?
The current situation in the Togean Islands is mainly as it always was, time passes slowly, people don’t have too many concerns and life is good. It was touching to see how the Una Una community helped the families in the affected area, and it was maybe even more wonderful to see how quickly spirits were lifted and smiles and jokes returned.
All travel routes are operational, all airports are open and all boats follow their schedules as much as you can expect. Flying via Palu to Ampana is a good option to enter the Togean Islands, with the 12 o’clock boat leaving Ampana for Wakai being operated again starting end of February 2019 (meaning that it is easy again to travel into the Togeans the same day as landing in Ampana).
The only noticeable change in the Togean Islands might be that it is a bit less busy. This makes visiting the Togean Archipelago an even more pristine experience and of course everyone is happy if travelers keep coming!