The name ‘Indonesia’ is formed from two Greek words: ‘Indos’ which means ‘Indian,’ and ‘nesos’ which means ‘islands’. The Indonesian name for Indonesia is ‘Tanah Air Kita’ – Our Land and Water.
The Republic of Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, and is probably the last territory on earth still not fully explored and mapped. It is estimated to have about 18,000 islands, of which 6,000 have been named and fewer are inhabited. Based on these approximations, it would take 48 years in order to spend a day on each island (not factoring transportation time).
Situated between Indochina to the north and Australia to the south, the archipelago stretches east and west along the equator, from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, for more than 5,000 kilometres (the average length of a continent). The coastline, 100,000 kilometres, is the longest in the world and boasts the greatest marine biodiversity on earth. It is home to 25 percent of the world’s coral reef and 3,500 of the world’s 4,500 reef fish species.
The lush tropical forests of the islands provide refuge for the one-horned rhinoceros (Java); the orangutan (Kalimantan and Sumatera), the only great ape living naturally outside Africa; the giant lizard known as the Komodo dragon (the Lesser Sunda Islands); and the the Draco volans (flying dragon), a lizard which glides from trees and other high points. The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatera was added to the World Heritage List in 2004.
Indonesia’s main islands are Sumatera (473,606 sq km), Sulawesi (189,216 sq km), Papua (421,981 sq km), Kalimantan (539,460 sq km), Java (132,187 sq km), and the small but world-renown island of Bali. Indonesia’s region of Papua shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea; the region of Kalimantan shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Brunei. The islands of New Guinea and Borneo are two of the largest islands in the world.
Together, Indonesia’s islands form part of the Ring of Fire which includes about seventy-five percent of all the world’s volcanoes. (The rim of the Pacific Basin is ringed with volcanoes, from Alaska through the United States, Mexico and South America, then on to New Zealand and up to Japan and Russia.) Of the 400 volcanoes located in Indonesia, 150 of them are active, about 75 percent of all active volcanoes on the planet.
The eruption of Mount Tambora, on Sumbawa Island, in 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. 1816 was known as the “Year Without Summer” because of the global climatic effects of the eruption.
In 1883 the volcanic island of Krakatoa (part of the Indonesian archipelago) was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, causing a tidal wave that killed over thirty thousand people.
On 26 December 2004, volcanic activity off the coast of Sumatera set off an undersea earthquake (between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter scale) in the Indian Ocean. Known as the Great Sumatera-Andaman earthquake, it is the second largest earthquake in recorded history, and its duration (between 8 and 10 minutes) is the longest ever recorded. Its vibrations spread across the entire planet, triggering other earthquakes as far away as Alaska and a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean. The enormous waves of the tsunamis, up to 30 metres, inundated coastal communities in eleven countries, causing untold flooding and destruction, and killing more than 225,000 people in Sumatera, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and the east coast of Africa (Kenya and Somalia).
The plight of the many affected people and countries prompted a widespread humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $7 billion in humanitarian aid.
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