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 Wednesday 17 February 2010
 
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INDONESIA: Plight of mudflow IDPs continues


Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
Thousands of homes, as well as schools, government offices, factories, mosques and valuable farmland have been lost to the mud
PORONG, 10 February 2010 (IRIN) - Nearly 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Indonesia still lack basic services and are awaiting full compensation after a mudflow destroyed homes and farmland almost four years ago.

Originating from a mud volcano in the district of Sidoarjo in East Java Province, the mudflow and toxic gas emissions started in May 2006 and still continue, with the volcano expelling 60,000 cubic metres of watery mud daily, according to the government's Sidoarjo Mudflow Mitigation Agency (BPLS). Some 14,000 houses have been submerged.

In the village of Besuki in Porong sub-district - a five-minute drive from the volcano - IDPs have found refuge alongside a road in bamboo huts they built themselves.

They say they are still awaiting full compensation for losing their land and homes, and cannot afford to move until they receive all the money. Many report only receiving 50 percent of the compensation, which for most is about 100 million rupiah (US$10,000). They expect the balance in a year.

"Forgotten"

Siti Rochma, 37, has been living in a one-room shelter for two years.

"I share the room with my husband and four children. It gets so hot at night and the rain leaks through the roof. No one can sleep," she told IRIN.

"We used to get a lot of journalists and people writing reports here, but not many come any more," she said. "We think people have forgotten us."

Besides proper shelter, the IDPs still lack basic infrastructure and healthcare.

"We need help with installing toilets and getting access to water, gas and electricity," said Khusnul Hokhtima, 40, a mother of two.


Photo: Angela Dewan/IRIN
Siti Rochma in her family's one-room bamboo shelter in Besuki village, in the district of Sidoarjo in East Java Province, Indonesia
BPLS says the government has plans to install water, gas and electricity infrastructure next year for the IDPs, while healthcare is free - but survivors dispute this.

Atituk, 30, said she had to pay each time she took her one-year-old son to the doctor.

"There's still a lot of gas in the air, so he gets chronic throat infections. We got him some syrup, but he still gets sick all the time," she said.

Compensation delays

There has been much debate about whether the volcanic eruption was caused by energy company PT Lapindo Brantas or a major earthquake two days before in Yogyakarta Province, some 300km away.

The Supreme Court acquitted Lapindo in September 2009, finding insufficient evidence to link its drilling activities to the mudflow.

Despite this, Lapindo is obliged by two presidential decrees to pay compensation to 40,000 people displaced from the immediate disaster zone.

In turn, the government is responsible for paying 9,000 IDPs in affected villages on the fringes of the zone. It has so far spent about $27 million to cover 50 percent of the payments.

In 2007, Lapindo paid 20 percent of the compensation owed. However, in August last year, it failed to meet the deadline to pay the remaining portion, citing financial difficulties amid the global economic downturn.

Lapindo will instead pay the remaining compensation in instalments, said the deputy head of the BPLS social department, Sutjahjono Soejitno.


Photo: Angela Dewan/IRIN
Besuki village, which is just across the road from the IDPs old destroyed neighbourhood
"Some will receive their full compensation within the next three months, while those who are owed large amounts will probably have to wait three years," Soejitno told IRIN.

In addition, around 114 households in the disaster zone have yet to receive any compensation, since claimants were unable to prove ownership of their land, says the BPLS.

New eruptions feared

A geyser has been found about 1.5km from the mud volcano in Sidoarjo, sparking fears of further danger to surrounding communities.

"It's a small geyser but it can be just as dangerous as large ones, because they all emit methane gas, which is highly flammable, smelly and can cause headaches," said Amien Widodo, an environmental geologist with the November 10 Institute of Technology in Surabaya city.

There are also concerns over the stability of huge earth dikes - some as high as 18m - which were built to contain the mud.

"Because Sidoarjo experiences high levels of rainfall, the land is vulnerable to subsidence," said Widodo.

The deputy of operations for BPLS, Sofiian Hadi, added: "The dikes once dropped 3m. They could drop again, but we have people checking for cracks every day."

Geologists are unsure when or how the volcano will stop expelling mud and gas.

"The amount of mud that's coming out now has halved since 2006, so maybe it will halve again in three years," Hadi said. "So it could be over in 10 or so years, but of course, we can't be sure of that."

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Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Early Warning, (PLUSNEWS) Natural Disasters, (PLUSNEWS) Refugees/IDPs

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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