Puji Pujiono: Born to deal with disaster
Features – April 10, 2007
Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
When the House of Representatives endorsed a bill on disaster management last March 29, Dr. Puji Pujiono was among the happiest people in the country.
Indeed, with his wealth of experience in managing disasters, Pujiono was actively involved in the drafting and deliberation of the bill.
“It (the bill) has been like my own son,” said Pujiono, 45, who is currently a policy and legislation adviser on disaster risk reduction for UNDP Indonesia.
Pujiono was the leader of an expert team advising and guiding the House’s special committee in discussing the bill. In fact, when the House decided to exercise its right to draft a bill on disaster management in early 2005, Pujiono actively participated in writing the legislation.
His involvement was interrupted only when appointed to head the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kobe, Japan, in 2006. But almost immediately after he returned to Indonesia earlier this year, he went back to the House to offer technical support in the deliberation of the bill.
Together with some 50 members of the House’s joint committee and government representatives, he engaged in what he described as very intensive deliberations to finish the bill.
When he returned, the committee had finished deliberating eight articles, mostly dealing with crucial points of the bill including institutional arrangement, responsibility sharing between the government and the community, and financing.
“My role there basically was to enlighten the process. So, instead of just indulging in political stuff, I provided the joint committee with the scientific conceptual framework and policy background,” Pujiono said during a visit to Yogyakarta recently.
Thanks in part to his presence, the previously combative deliberations between House members and government representatives became more harmonious, enabling the committee to finish the bill in just eight weeks.
“The bill is not a panacea to all (disaster-related) problems. It is just a framework, but a very important one,” said Pujiono.
He said the importance of the bill, which has 85 articles, was in changing the people’s way of thinking regarding disasters.
With the bill’s endorsement, Pujiono said, Indonesia has now fully adopted disaster management as part of the nation’s life, showing it considers disaster risk reduction as important as other sectors like education and health.
To deal with disasters, the government and the people are no longer supposed to focus only on emergency response — meaning they only act when a disaster has already taken place — but also disaster risk reduction, he said.
As a consequence, the government is required to take into account disaster risk reduction aspects in every sector of development. In other words, disaster preparedness is not something that is done when there is a disaster, but when there is no disaster.
“This is the basic principle of the new paradigm in disaster management,” said Pujiono, whose work at the UNDP also includes looking at the regional implications and linkages of Indonesia’s disaster risk reduction in the Asian region.
As a social worker and disaster management professional with a doctorate in public administration, dealing with disasters — either natural or man-made — is not a new thing for Pujiono. In fact, he has at least 15 years of progressive professional experience in international humanitarian and disaster/emergency response and management, apart from a number of regional awards and recognitions.
Upon finishing his bachelor’s degree in social work at the Bandung School of Social Welfare (STKS) in 1985, Pujiono, then 24 years old, dealt with some 20,000 Vietnamese refugees at the Galang Refugee Camp in Riau after joining the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) as a social welfare counselor.
“It was my first professional assignment as a social worker,” said Pujiono, who was the 1985 best graduate of STKS Bandung and the 1981 best graduate of the Malang Vocational School of Social Work in East Java.
In 1986 he joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a junior national officer. His first task there was managing a UNHCR ship roaming the South China Sea, picking up Indo-Chinese refugees from the high seas and taking them to the reception center at the Galang Refugee Camp.
After quitting the UNHCR in 1989, he joined the Philippines-based non-governmental organization Community and Family Services International (CFSI), which took him to Hong Kong, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City.
During his four-year stay in Hong Kong he dealt with some 60,000 Vietnamese refugees, including the disabled, children, the elderly and single mothers.
“I was the first international social worker to establish social service programs there for Vietnamese refugees,” said Pujiono, adding that at that time the refugees were treated as illegal immigrants and were detained in stressful, prison-like settings without adequate social services.
Thanks to his work, the refugees eventually received more humane treatment from the local authorities.
While in Hong Kong, Pujiono started thinking of the importance of a higher education background to make his social work more meaningful. So, he joined the master’s degree program in social work at the University of the Philippines in 1995 and earned a doctorate in public administration in 1998 under a presidential scholarship from the Philippine government.
His dissertation on disaster preparedness was later adopted by the Philippine government as a manual for dealing with disasters. He also won the Philippine National Disaster Coordination Council’s Gawad Kasalag Award in 2003 for excellence in disaster management and humanitarian assistance.
While finishing his doctoral degree at the University of the Philippines, Pujiono was offered a scholarship from the Japan Ministry of Education in 1997 to join the graduate school of decision science and planning technology at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
“But I could not finish the program because UNHCR called me to join in its East Timor crisis operation,” said Pujiono who speaks English, Vietnamese, French and Japanese.
From November 1999 to September 2000 he served as a community services officer with the UNHCR in East Timor dealing with some 250,000 displaced people and refugees in highly insecure and complex circumstances.
In December 2000 he was promoted to expert for emergency management and community services and was tasked with managing the emergency preparedness partnership program of the UNHCR’s regional representatives in six Southeast Asian countries.
Later he also designed and facilitated the implementation of interagency contingency planning for disaster and displacement, in cooperation with government and non-governmental counterparts in a number of volatile areas, including Aceh (Indonesia), southern Mindanao (the Philippines), and Johor and Sabah (Malaysia).
“The same work was also done for natural disasters in some parts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia,” said Pujiono, who was assigned as Deputy UN Area Coordinator in May-July 2006 following the Java earthquake that badly affected Yogyakarta and parts of Central Java on May 27, 2006.