There was an outpouring of grief and tributes in Indonesia after the loss of life of nationwide catastrophe spokesperson Sutopo Nugroho. Because the BBC’s former Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke writes, “Father Topo” performed a significant function in a rustic going through twin battles of disasters and faux information.
Sutopo Nugroho’s final tweet on his a lot used account was of a map of Indonesia, one of the disaster-prone nations on earth.
There was no caption, simply a picture of the world’s largest archipelago that sits alongside the Ring of Hearth, its lots of of islands dotted with volcanoes.
He would have spent hours looking at that map, understanding what space can be affected by an earthquake, the place a tsunami may probably hit, or who wanted to maneuver to be protected from a volcanic eruption.
After which getting the knowledge out.
Earlier than he burst onto the scene, the nationwide catastrophe company in Indonesia, the BPBD, was at instances criticised for being late with info and offering typically cryptic particulars in regards to the many disasters to hit the nation.
Sutopo revolutionised the function and turn out to be an virtually 24-hour supply of correct info.
‘Iconic and inspirational’
The 49-year-old, affectionately referred to as Pak (Father) Topo, was the voice of the company for 9 years. But it surely was actually in 2018, when Indonesia had one in all its worst years in a decade when it comes to disasters, that he rose to prominence.
At a time when he was battling his personal catastrophe, lung most cancers, he single-handedly offered fixed updates on two tsunamis, quite a few main volcanic eruptions, landslides and earthquakes which all hit Indonesia final yr.
“He was iconic, he set a excessive instance that motivated all of us that labored below him and with him. He impressed us,” says Rita Rosita, who labored with him on the company.
“He all the time instructed us to place our coronary heart into our work. In the event you do your job with ardour and dedication then it does not matter how arduous a process [is], it’s going to turn out to be straightforward. That is what he all the time careworn to us.”
Sutopo constructed up and fostered a detailed relationship with journalists – he noticed us as allies in getting correct info out. Even from his hospital mattress, he wrote press releases, answered cellphone calls and responded to interviews.
A message from a reporter like me, at any time of day, was virtually all the time promptly answered. He would say when there have been instances when he could not reply a query and clarify how he received the knowledge on loss of life tolls or affected areas.
When as soon as a brand new workers member on the BBC’s Jakarta bureau referred to as him and launched straight right into a query in regards to the newest on a catastrophe hit space, he stated “Woah you are asking immediately like that?! Say howdy first and ask ‘how are you?'”
The journalist apologised and stated “I’m new to this, Pak”, and the interview continued.
Pretend information buster
It was on Twitter – bypassing the normal media – that Sutopo actually got here into his personal.
In his posts he was at instances poetic, whimsical, philosophical and playful in addition to being critical when disasters struck.
“I joke so much. In the event you see the social media of different ministries and establishments, it’s a bit boring,” he instructed The Guardian as soon as. “I am not like that.”
Like many nations, Indonesia is struggling to fight pretend information and Sutopo waged a struggle on deceptive and incorrect info.
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He would label movies being extensively shared as “hoaxes” and name on folks to delete the posts from their accounts, apprehensive that they might result in pointless panic or hamper assist work.
On this tweet, one in all many prefer it, he explains that this video exhibiting lava flowing just isn’t from Mount Soputan in North Sulawesi (that had simply erupted) however from one other place. “Ignore and do not unfold on social media,” he says.
He was a skilful social media participant and would typically tag influencers in his Twitter posts, notably native pop singer Raisa Andriana. By our rely, he tagged her greater than 90 instances in posts about numerous disaster-related info.
When requested why, he stated: “In order that Raisa helps unfold info” to her eight million followers.
Their uncommon friendship delighted Indonesian residents and a hashtag marketing campaign encouraging her to fulfill him began trending.
They did finally, on the finish of November final yr. By then he had stage 4 lung most cancers however stated that on that day he was so blissful he forgot he was in poor health. He was grinning from ear to ear.
‘Hero to humanity’
Sutopo was laid to relaxation on Monday in his dwelling village of Boyolali in Central Java, the place he grew up, by his personal accounts in a poor household. His father was a schoolteacher.
But at his packed funeral there to indicate their respects have been key political and army figures. Sutopo’s coffin was draped within the Indonesian flag. The pinnacle of the catastrophe mitigation company, Doni Munardo, described him to mourners as a “hero to humanity” who had devoted his life to Indonesia and its folks.
“Prayers and tributes for him have come not solely from throughout Indonesia but in addition from world wide,” he stated.
His spouse, crippled by grief, threw flowers over his grave. Their eldest son Muhammad Ivanka Rizaldy Nugroho stated he had been a superb father.
“My father all the time taught us to be sincere, he all the time inspired us to be the most effective folks we may very well be and he additionally shared no matter he had with others,” he stated.
Large function to fill
Sutopo himself was at instances crucial of Indonesia’s catastrophe mitigation efforts, highlighting the truth that the tsunami early warning system put in place after the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami had lengthy been damaged.
“Since 2012, not one of the buoys have been operational, despite the fact that they’re essential for early warning,” he instructed reporters final yr after a tsunami triggered by an earthquake killed 1000’s in central Sulawesi.
He was additionally annoyed when folks would rebuild their houses close to the ocean after a tsunami or in earthquake-prone areas – towards the company’s recommendation.
He leaves an enormous hole within the nation’s catastrophe mitigation effort. The journalist discussion groups he use to fill with info have been silent in latest weeks.
And a few are asking if the catastrophe info system was too reliant on one man.
“All of us really feel an unbelievable loss,” says catastrophe company head Doni Munardo. “The BNPB household labored so arduous to attempt to give him the most effective medical remedy in order that he may get higher.
“Hopefully a brand new younger Sutopo can be born who can proceed Pak Topo’s combat.”
However maybe there aren’t too many people like Sutopo, who typically stated, “It is not about how lengthy your life is, it is about what you do in your lifetime to assist others.”
A biography about his life is within the works.
Famend native journalist Najwa Shihab says he approached her to assist him write it.
In a publish on social media she recalled the message he despatched her, the place he stated: “Hopefully my story can encourage others, notably these with most cancers. Possibly my journey can be of curiosity to others.”
Further reporting from Boyolali by Fajar Sodiq