Mud-displaced still fighting to recover livelihoods

JAKARTA, 4 July 2011 (IRIN) - Five years after a volcanic eruption displaced thousands, the mud continues to spew and many survivors have yet to regain their livelihoods.

Bambang Setiawan, 47, lost his job as a security guard after the world's largest mud volcano erupted in May 2006, inundating villages in Indonesia's Sidoarjo District in East Java Province.

"I'm still jobless. At my age it's hard to find a job because companies hire only young people," Setiawan said. He has been renting a house with his wife and two young children ever since tons of mud buried their old lives.

The mud erupted near a gas drilling site operated by PT Lapindo Brantas and buried more than 10,000 houses, 23 schools, 24 factories employing about 3,000 people, and 360 hectares of farmlands, according to local government data. More than 13,000 families have been displaced.

The mud flow has decreased from 180,000 cubic metres a day to about 10,000 cubic metres, or enough to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools, said Hari Prayitno, a spokesperson for Sidoarjo Mudflow Mitigation Agency, the government agency handling the disaster.

Experts said the mud volcano could continue to erupt for another 26 years [ ].


Many scientists agree the disaster was caused by an explosion at the Lapindo drilling site, but the company insists an earthquake that struck days earlier was to blame.

Nevertheless, Lapindo agreed to compensate those affected by buying their land and houses. [ ] So far, 70 percent of the survivors have received full payment, while the remainder have been promised cash instalments, said Paring Waluyo, an activist advocating for those affected.

"Because the company has said it's suffering cash problems, it will take years before the remaining residents are fully compensated," Waluyo said. "The government should take action as soon as possible, otherwise, how will the victims get back on their feet?"

The government has compensated residents in three villages initially not affected by the mudflow but now declared uninhabitable by authorities, Prayitno said.

Prayitno said the government had no information about the livelihoods of the families who had been forced to move because of the disaster. But he estimated thousands of the people affected who made a living farming shrimp and growing rice were now likely to be without a steady means of support.

Waluyo agreed: "Those who worked in the informal sector such as farming and shrimping were the hardest hit, because they face new challenges in new places and they don't have capital to start a business."

Setiawan, who has yet to be fully compensated, said the burden of supporting his family could not be met by the money trickling in from Lapindo's compensation. He said he received US$580 from Lapindo in the four months since February. The company has paid 20 percent of the money owed to the remaining 30 percent of the mud-affected. It has promised to pay the rest in monthly instalments.

"I do odd jobs to survive," Setiawan said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the company to pay about $400 million to contain the mud and compensate the affected.

A new proposal is being drawn up to include residents from 54 areas in several villages in the compensation scheme because their neighbourhoods are no longer habitable, Prayitno said. Each family will be entitled to $85 per square metre of their property, a moving allowance of $55, an annual rent allowance of $290 for two years and a food allowance of $35 per person per month, he said.