Ahead of extreme monsoon weather, Indonesia launches first WhatsApp Humanitarian Chatbot

Yayasan Peta Bencana, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and endorsed by Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB), as part of the USAID Cognicity OSS for Next Generation Community Engagement in DRM Program, through the Investing in Human Capital for Disaster Management initiative, officially launched the first WhatsApp Humanitarian Chatbot, BencanaBot. The first-of-its-kind, AI-assisted chatbot guides Indonesian residents to submit disaster reports. These reports are mapped in real-time on a free and open source platform, PetaBencana.id, where anyone is able to view and share real-time disaster updates in order to make coordinated, evidence-based decisions about safety and response.

Floodwaters up to 3 meters high destroyed dozens of homes in North Sulawesi on Friday, and torrential rains have flooded several areas in Indonesia during the first month of the year. BMKG has issued a warning for peak rainfall across the country this week, with the monsoon season expected to continue into March. In preparation for the upcoming extreme weather and in line with BNPB’s vision of Indonesia Tangguh 2045, the launch of BencanaBot on WhatsApp is a pivotal next step in strengthening preparedness and community-led disaster risk reduction. 

“If we used to focus on disaster mitigation, now we must focus more on disaster risk reduction. In the past, it was ‘what to do,’ now it is ‘how to do,’” BNPB’s deputy for system and strategy, Raditya Jati, explained at a national seminar on strengthening disaster mitigation systems for community resilience as part of the 2022 Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Month. 

According to the IPCC report, one of the greatest barriers to adaptation is a lack of timely, locally-specific information. PetaBencana.id addresses this gap by collecting real-time updates directly from street level, soliciting resident reports through automated chatbots on social media and instant messaging apps. 

“The scale of the challenges we face today cannot be addressed by one institution alone. It is imperative to enable every single resident to be able to participate in disaster risk reduction and recovery efforts, and that is our mission at Yayasan Peta Bencana,” said Nashin Mahtani, director of Yayasan Peta Bencana. “Recognizing that during disasters people will use the applications they are already using with increased frequency, PetaBencana.id was intentionally designed to harness the use of active social media and instant messaging channels. With over 80 million active users of WhatsApp in Indonesia, the launch of BencanaBot on WhatsApp represents a new milestone in enabling residents all across the archipelago to participate in, and benefit from, this free disaster information sharing system.” 

Any resident in Indonesia can submit disaster reports anonymously by sending a message to +62-8584-BENCANA (+62-8584-2362262 or bit.ly/BencanaBotWA). Residents can also submit reports by tweeting @petabencana, sending a Facebook message to @petabencana, or sending a telegram message to @bencanabot, and check https://petabencana.id for real-time disaster updates to navigate safely.