Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, Indonesia Disaster Spokesman, Dies at 49

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BANGKOK — Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the widely respected spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, died early Sunday in Guangzhou, China, where he was receiving treatment for cancer. He was 49.

Mr. Sutopo gained national acclaim as a straight-shooting government spokesman who relied on science to offer fact-based explanations for Indonesia’s frequent natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and a tsunami.

His death was reported on Twitter by his agency, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

[Read our profile of Mr. Sutopo from last year.]

A lifelong nonsmoker, Mr. Sutopo learned he had Stage 4 lung cancer early last year. But he continued in his post during what he called the year of disasters, at times tweeting and taking reporters’ calls from his hospital bed. More than 4,600 people died last year in what Mr. Sutopo said was Indonesia’s deadliest year for natural disasters in more than a decade.

Throughout his illness, he remained relentlessly optimistic and counseled other cancer patients on how to cope with their disease.

He would have turned 50 in October.

Mr. Sutopo gained such a large following that his idol, President Joko Widodo, met with him in October and signed a note that said, “Keep being an inspiration.”

Mr. Joko shared his condolences on Facebook on Sunday, calling Mr. Sutopo “a person who dedicated his life for other people.”

As the disaster agency spokesman, Mr. Joko said, Mr. Sutopo “informed us quickly on natural disasters, earthquakes, landslides, tsunami or fires that happened across the country for us to be alert and not confused.”

Noting something Mr. Sutopo once told him, the president added: “As he once said, ‘Life is not about long or short age, it is about how much we help others.’ And he applied that sentence well.”

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho was born in the Central Java regency of Boyolali on Oct. 7, 1969, to Suharsono Harsosaputro, a schoolteacher, and Sri Rosmandari.

He earned a degree in geography at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and a master’s in watershed management and a doctorate in natural resources and environmental management from Bogor Agricultural University in Bogor.

Early in his career, while working as a government researcher, Mr. Sutopo gained public attention by exposing the misconduct of officials who could have prevented a dam collapse that killed more than 100 people.

“I always shared with the public, through the media, what the facts are,” he told The New York Times in December.

He repeatedly turned down the job as spokesman for the disaster agency because he feared he would have to limit his remarks to what the government wanted him to say, he said.

But he said his superiors finally persuaded him by assuring him that they wanted him to take the post because he spoke honestly about events and had credibility with the public.

He saw part of his job as countering disaster-related rumors and hoaxes by providing scientific explanations.

“What I am giving out is the real thing,” he told The Times, “not fake news like Donald Trump.”

Mr. Sutopo is survived by his parents; his wife, Retno Utami Yulianingsih; and two sons, Muhammad Ivanka Rizaldy Nugroho and Muhammad Aufa Wikantyasa Nugroho.



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