Indonesia's famed disaster spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho dies of cancer

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (centre) died early on July 7 at a hospital in Guangzhou, China, where he was undergoing treatment for cancer, which had spread to his bones and several vital organs. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (centre) died early on July 7 at a hospital in Guangzhou, China, where he was undergoing treatment for cancer, which had spread to his bones and several vital organs. He is survived by his wife and two children.PHOTO: BNPB_INDONESIA / INSTAGRAM
Affectionately known as Pak Topo, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, 49, was the face of government efforts to get word out on the latest developments in a string of natural disasters, including a quake-tsunami that killed thousands on Sulawesi island in 2018.
Affectionately known as Pak Topo, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, 49, was the face of government efforts to get word out on the latest developments in a string of natural disasters, including a quake-tsunami that killed thousands on Sulawesi island in 2018. ST PHOTO: TATAN SYUFLANA

JAKARTA - Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho - who shot to fame for keeping his brutal working hours through numerous natural disasters while battling terminal cancer - has died at the age of 49.

BNPB announced on its official Twitter account that Dr Sutopo died at 2am on Sunday (July 7) at a hospital in Guangzhou, China, where he had been undergoing treatment for Stage 4B lung cancer since mid-June. He was first diagnosed with cancer in January last year.

When Mount Agung erupted and brought Bali to a standstill, Dr Sutopo was hooked up to an intravenous line, breathing through one lung and issuing press releases to journalists. While fighting his own battle with cancer, he continued to calm a nation being ravaged by wildfires, landslides, floods and earthquakes.

Dr Sutopo was one of the four courageous men collectively labelled The First Responders, who were awarded The Straits Times Asians of the Year 2018 at the The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum 2019.

The other winners included the late Mr Ng Kok Choong, the Singaporean paraglider who was celebrated for his rescue work in the aftermath of an earthquake in Central Sulawesi.

Dr Sutopo's son, Mr Muhammad Ivanka Rizaldy, said on his Instagram account: “We hope all friends and families forgive Pak Sutopo’s entire mistakes done intentionally and unintentionally. Let’s pray for the deceased so that God may accept him and his good deeds.”

Mr Rizaldy said that his father's condition improved early on Saturday and had a video call with him, Mr Rizaldy told reporters on Sunday at the family's home in Depok, outside Jakarta.

But later that night, his father had trouble falling asleep, partly because of the flu medication that gave him a boost and kept him awake.

 
 
 
 

Dr Sutopo had been at the forefront in Indonesia’s effort to mitigate natural disasters, which could strike for more than 2,000 times a year. He regularly updated his Twitter and Instagram accounts that has 200,000 and 70,000 followers, respectively.

Even from his hospital bed, he wrote press releases, answered phone calls and responded to interviews.

Last year, he worked tirelessly as Indonesia, sitting in the Pacific Ring of Fire, struggled with landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, and also earthquakes that hit Lombok and Bali in July and August, which were followed by the double whammy of a quake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi in September that killed thousands.

Dr Sutopo said he had more than 3,000 contacts in his mobile phone while his social media feeds are filled with updates and dramatic images showing the aftermath of quakes, tsunamis, landslides and volcanic eruptions.

“Pak Topo worked extraordinarily with high spirits, serving the media and the public despite his health condition. He is a hero for humanity,” Army Leutenant-General Doni Monardo, head of BNPB, told reporters on Sunday at the family home of Dr Sutopo, affectionately known as Pak Topo.

Dr Sutopo held a PhD in natural resources and the environment, with a special focus on hydrology and cloud-seeding.

The body of Dr Sutopo would be brought to Jakarta on Sunday, while the burial would be at his home town in Boyolali, Central Java province. Dr Sutopo is survived by his wife and two children.

Dr Sutopo saw himself as a public servant to the end. "It's not about how long your life is," he said. "It's about what you do in your lifetime."