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Sinabung volcano: how culture shapes community resilience

Marta Mori (Centre for Humanitarian Action, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) (Resilience Development Initiative, Bandung, Indonesia)
Ronan McDermott (Centre for Humanitarian Action, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Saut Sagala (Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia)
Yasmina Wulandari (Water and Waste Management, Resilience Development Initiative, Bandung, Indonesia)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 2 April 2019

Issue publication date: 9 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore how culture, including traditions and social structures, can influence resilience and how culturally sensitive relief operations can put affected people and their context at the core of any interventions.


A case study of the Mt Sinabung volcano area in Indonesia was undertaken. As part of the case study, an analysis of interventions was conducted, which was complemented by semi-structured interviews with Karo cultural experts and humanitarian organisations.


Culture influences the manner in which the Karo people react to volcano eruptions with varying implications for recovery. In addition, relief organisations which understand people’s actions through a cultural lens have better managed to tailor programs with long-term impact, thereby avoiding aid dependency.

Practical implications

Practical examples of disaster management activities that adequately account for the beneficiaries’ way of living prior to the eruptions are provided. Aid actors are provided with guidance concerning how to better tailor their activities in line with a cultural lens.


The study provides empirical grounding for claims concerning the role of culture in planning interventions in Indonesia and other similar contexts.



The authors would like to acknowledge that this article is based on both a working paper carried out during a research period at the think tank Resilience Development Initiative located in Bandung, Indonesia and is also based on the NOHA master thesis of the author Marta Mori. The authors would also like to thank all the key informants who have dedicated their time and were willing to provide fundamental information for this research. The authors also acknowledge and thank the journal anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and helpful suggestions.


Mori, M., McDermott, R., Sagala, S. and Wulandari, Y. (2019), "Sinabung volcano: how culture shapes community resilience", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 290-303.



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