Webinar on “Tech for Good in Indonesia: Humanitarian Chatbots for Climate Disaster Response and Recovery”

In this webinar, Ms Nashin Mahtani spoke about her work leading a multidisciplinary team in developing open-source software for democratic climate adaptation and humanitarian aid. Discussing the award-winning platform, PetaBencana.id (Disaster Map Indonesia), she highlighted the factors that enable the success of this platform and how it had helped affected regions in their responses toward natural disasters.


Monday, 17 May 2021 – The Indonesia Studies Programme organized a webinar on “Tech for Good in Indonesia: Humanitarian Chatbots for Climate Disaster Response and Recovery” on Monday, delivered by Ms Nashin Mahtani, Director of Yayasan Peta Bencana (Disaster Map Foundation). Dr Siwage Dharma Negara moderated this session.

Ms Nashin Mahtani
Ms Nashin Mahtani argued that no matter how many infrastructures were built, Jakarta might not be able to keep up with the rising intensity of the climate crisis. Dr Siwage Dharma Negara moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Mahtani started by highlighting several record-breaking weather events and disasters in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta over the past decade. It is impossible to predict these events (till the point that it cannot be described as ‘normal’ natural disaster anymore). She anticipated a continuous trend of these increasingly extreme weather events in the near future. For example, Jakarta has several hundred water pumps to manage the flow of water in the city. Yet, infrastructure failures often occurred, such as faulty pumps and broken canals, causing massive flood events in recent years. Many of these infrastructures were built during the Dutch colonial era, making them increasingly ill-fitted in responding to enormous water flow in the city. As such, Ms Mahtani argued that no matter how many infrastructures were built, Jakarta might not be able to keep up with the rising intensity of the climate crisis. Therefore, she highlighted the importance of enabling people to adapt to the situation and be collectively prepared to minimize risks.

Laying out the potential of people’s participation in climate adaptation, Ms Mahtani and her team tapped into social media and digital media network as ready-made infrastructures in Indonesia. In 2013, Yayasan Peta Bencana was granted funds that enabled them to transform the noise of social media into valuable information. Using data from Twitter, the team built an open-sourced software called Cognicity, which aimed to gather social media posts from the people on the ground who know best about the natural disaster situation. As she asserted that  A person with a mobile phone is infinitely smarter than any IoT (Internet of Things) sensor, the platform was designed with limited data used for the underfunded community. As the software can be plugged into many social media platforms, it does not require users to download a new app for inputs, thus easing the participation process.

As PetaBencana.id collaborated with government institutions to increase response time and coordination, Ms Mahtani expected to see a democratized decision-making rule by providing the same information in the control room and in every resident’s mobile phones. The system was designed as a collaborative co-research that heavily relied on community engagement and outreach. With that, Ms Mahtani and her team aspired to expand the usage of this platform as a ground-up tool that can help reduce the disaster risk in the city as well as lessening the burden of the city’s disaster management agency.

Finally, Ms Mahtani discussed the adoption of this open-source software for a broader scope. She noted an increasing trust in crowdsourcing data, as seen with the rising trend of data integration and sharing from PetaBencana.id with other agencies, such as NASA, LAPAN, Google, Blibli, and Uber. NASA and LAPAN, for instance, even used the collected data to verify satellite imagery for their analysis. Moreover, despite starting this programme in Jakarta, the project had expanded nationally across the archipelago and was adopted in the Philippines through MapaKalamidad.ph. Ms Mahtani hoped to see the continuous development of this open-source software in other countries.

The webinar concluded with a Q&A session that discussed issues ranging from the infrastructural strategies toward disaster responses, the country’s plan to move the capital and a suggestion to study residents’ adaptation to flooding over time. Questions related to PetaBencana.id’s technological innovation include the accessibility of data storage for local government, challenges on data collection, the adaptation of open-source software to other kinds of disasters, data disparities in rural areas, skill gaps in talent recruitment, as well as gender divide in the tech industry. The webinar attracted 48 participants from Singapore and abroad.

Almost 50 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)