SBY pledges relief for volcano victims

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Kabanjahe | Headlines | Sat, January 25 2014, 10:53 AM

President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono has unveiled additional mitigation solutions and relief and recovery programs for victims of Mount Sinabung in Karo regency, North Sumatra, which has been erupting for the last five months.

The short-term measures include disaster relief aid; continuation of health care and education for evacuees, such as scholarships for elementary, junior high, senior high school and university students; cash-for-work incentives for every household head; assistance for eruption victims whose farms and crops were damaged; cooperation with financial institutions to reschedule old credit loans; the provision of fresh credit loans; and phasing out interest on existing loans.

For mitigation, over the next two years the government plans to relocate residents living within a 3-kilometer radius of Mt. Sinabung.

Yudhoyono said on Friday the government would provide new settlements for residents affected by the eruption located between 5 and 7 km from the volcano.

“Of the 25-hectare location we need for the purpose, 15 hectares have been made available and we have to find another 10 hectares. If the entire location is available, we can build permanent homes for 900 families living within a 3-km radius of the mountain,” said Yudhoyono.

Yudhoyono expected the policy, solution and program would be implemented with fidelity by every stakeholder, including the provincial administration, religious and community leaders and the residents.

“The budget for these programs is not small and could reach into the hundreds of billions of rupiah to overcome the impact of the eruption. Therefore, the entire budget must be accurately targeted and managed well,” said Yudhoyono.

The President announced the programs after observing conditions in the field during a two-day visit to evacuation shelters in Kabanjahe.

At the same time, Yudhoyono told the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to hold off on disaster mitigation efforts until Mt. Sinabung stopped erupting.

He added that once the situation returned to normal the BNPB would receive assistance from relevant central government ministries and agencies and by the Indonesian Military (TNI), based in Bukit Barisan, to implement mitigation efforts.

BNPB head Syamsul Ma’arif said his agency was ready to carry out the President’s instructions.

This was the President and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono’s first visit to Karo after Mt. Sinabung started erupting in September 2013.

According to Mt. Sinabung Emergency Task Force commander Saberina Mars on Thursday, the number of evacuees had reached 28,745, constituting 9,245 families, who were being sheltered at 42 locations.

The disaster has claimed 31 lives and destroyed thousands of hectares of agricultural land in the regency, which is widely known as a vegetable and fruit producer.

The ongoing eruptions have caused total losses of more than Rp 1 trillion (US$82 million), of which the agricultural sector had lost Rp 712 billion and the housing sector Rp 234 billion.

The eruptions have also disrupted food supplies from North Sumatra to other provinces in Sumatra and Java.

The disaster has not only affected agriculture in the area but has also threatened tourism, as the number of foreign and domestic tourist arrivals in the regency has reportedly fallen drastically since Mt. Sinabung began erupting five months ago.