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Indonesia - Geography

Indonesia’s variations in culture have been shaped by centuries of complex interactions with the physical environment. Although Indonesians in general are now less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of nature as a result of improved technology and social programs, it is still possible to discern ways in which cultural variations are linked to traditional patterns of adjustment to their physical circumstances.

Indonesia is a vast archipelagic country extending 5,120 kilometers from east to west and 1,760 kilometers from north to south. According to the Indonesian Naval Hydro-Oceanographic Office, the country encompasses 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited. There are five main islands (Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua), two major archipelagos (Nusa Tenggara— also known as the Lesser Sunda Islands—and the Maluku Islands— also called the Moluccas), and 60 smaller archipelagos.

Three of the islands are shared with other nations: Kalimantan, the world’s third-largest island—also known as Borneo—is shared with Malaysia and Brunei; Papua and Papua Barat provinces (two provinces carved from what was formerly called West New Guinea or, later, Irian Jaya) share the island of New Guinea with the nation of Papua New Guinea; and the island of Timor is divided between Timor-Leste (former East Timor) and Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara Timur Province (see fig. 6). Indonesia’s total land area is 1,811,569 square kilometers. Included in the nation’s total territory are another 93,000 square kilometers of inland waters (straits, bays, and other bodies). These areas, plus the seas and oceans immediately surrounding Indonesia, bring the country’s generally recognized territory (land and water) to about 5 million square kilometers. The government, however, also claims a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone that brings the total to about 7.9 million square kilometers.

Geographers have conventionally labeled Sumatra, Java (and Madura, a small island near Java’s northeast coast), Kalimantan, and Sulawesi collectively as the Greater Sunda Islands. These islands, except for Sulawesi, lie on the Sunda Shelf, an extension of the Malay Peninsula and the Southeast Asian mainland. Far to the east are Papua and Papua Barat provinces, which take up the western half of the world’s second-largest island, New Guinea, which lies on the Sahul Shelf. Sea depths on the Sunda and Sahul shelves average 200 meters or less. Between these two shelves lie Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, and the Maluku Islands, whose adjacent seas are 4,500 meters deep in some places. The term Outer Islands (see Glossary) is used inconsistently by various writers but is usually taken to mean those islands other than Java, Bali, and Madura.

Volcanoes and Earthquakes

The islands that make up Indonesia are highly unstable tectonically, and although the resultant volcanic ash has provided the basis for fertile soils, it makes agricultural conditions unpredictable in some areas. The nation has numerous mountains and some 400 volcanoes, about 25 percent of which are active. Well-known examples are Mount Merapi (Gunung Merapi), in Jawa Tengah Province, which last erupted in 2007, and Soputan, in Sulawesi Utara Province, which last erupted in 2008. Between 2000 and 2009 alone, 110 new or continuous volcanic eruptions were recorded in Indonesia, mostly in Java.

The most violent geologic events in modern times have occurred in Indonesia: In 1815 the explosion of Mount Tambora (Gunung Tambora), a massive volcano in Nusa Tenggara Barat Province on the island of Sumbawa, reportedly killed an estimated 60,000 people. It last erupted in 1967. Krakatau, a volcano situated on an island between Java and Sumatra, erupted in 1883, and more than 36,000 died in the resulting tsunamis, which were felt as far away as the Arabian Peninsula, and changes in the water level were reported as far away as Wales. Krakatau is still active, having erupted as recently as March 2009. The Lumpur Sidoarjo (Lusi) mud volcano in Jawa Timur Province, which began in late May 2006 coincident with natural gas exploration drilling and, as some believe, an offshore earthquake, is an eruption of hydrogen sulphide gas and hot mud rather than a traditional volcano with its explosive ejections and flows of lava.

Earthquakes also frequently shake Indonesia. Thirty-eight major earthquakes, measuring between 6.5 and 9.1 magnitude—26 of them greater than 7.0—hit throughout most of the archipelago between 2000 and 2009. On the morning of December 26, 2004, an offshore earthquake registering 9.1 magnitude created a massive tsunami that hit the northwestern coast of Sumatra, primarily the Special Region of Aceh (called Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 1999–2009), killing 166,561 people and displacing another 203,817. Other tsunamis caused by this earthquake also devastated coastal and island areas of the Indian Ocean as far west as the east coast of Africa and as far north as Burma. Overall, the earthquake and tsunamis killed more than 227,898 persons and displaced more than 1.7 million in Indonesia and 13 other countries.

On March 28, 2005, another devastating earthquake, registering a magnitude of 8.6, struck the island of Nias and nearby islands in Sumatera Utara Province. It killed more than 1,300 persons and displaced 40,000. More than 5,700 people were killed, 38,000 injured, and 600,000 left homeless when a 6.3 earthquake hit offshore of the coast of the Special Region of Yogyakarta, on May 27, 2006. Then, on September 2, 2009, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Jawa Barat Province, causing severe damage and 72 deaths, and was felt widely on Java. Several weeks later, on September 30, 2009, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Padang, Sumatera Barat Province, and was felt throughout Sumatra and Java, as well as in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. It caused at least 1,100 deaths, more than 2,180 were injured, and thousands were missing amid the severe structural damage.

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Page last modified: 16-08-2013 18:52:24 ZULU