20 December 2010

Government faces anger from Merapi victims

Jakarta Post - December 10, 2010

Slamet Susanto and Arya Dipa, Yogyakarta/Bandung -- Thousands of survivors of the Mount Merapi eruptions staged a rally in Yogyakarta on Monday, demanding that the government fulfill its promise to compensate them for livestock killed during the eruptions.

The protestors arrived in trucks to the governor's office in Kepatihan and to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) office on Jl. Kenari. "We want the government to act on its promise," Kemirah of Wukirsari village in Cangkringan, Sleman, said.

The survivors also demanded that temporary homes for them be built as soon as possible.

The BNPB previously said it would disburse funds to the affected local administrations to purchase livestock for survivors. The agency reported that it would purchase nearly 4,000 cows.

The Agriculture Ministry, in a similar vein, said it would give cows to survivors who lost livestock through a social aid program in its 2011 budget. Residents have reported the death of almost 3,000 heads of cattle in Yogyakarta and Central Java.

The protestors, however, said they felt the authorities were acting too slowly, especially as survivors were in desperate need of cash to start rebuilding their lives.

In 2006, Yogyakarta residents were also let down by a similar pledge by the government, who promised to compensate them for houses destroyed by the powerful earthquake that hit the city and surrounding areas. They were forced to wait for a long time before the government finally met its promise to disburse the funds in stages.

Kimin of Petung village in Kepuharjo, Cangkringan, said Sunday he would start cultivating his field once he received compensation for his dead livestock, adding that he expected some of the compensation to be in the 
form of cash. "I hope the government starts handing out the compensation soon so we can start over. We have nothing left," he said.

Since Merapi was taken off its high-alert status, survivors have returned to their homes and started to clean up and salvage valuables from the rubble. Some were also seen planting crops in fields and yards.

Sleman Deputy Regent Yuni Satia Rahayu called on residents to exercise patience and promised to help them get the compensation. "We are still negotiating with the central government," she said.

Meanwhile, experts are calling for a change in the way Mt. Merapi is monitored, following this year's major eruptions.

Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center (PVMBG) head Surono said in Bandung on Monday that the center could no longer rely on earlier monitoring methods as the volcano's eruption characteristics had changed. Previously, he said, Merapi's eruptions always began with the formation of a lava dome followed by slow release of pyroclastic flows. "That was not the case this year."

The 2010 eruptions, the biggest ever in Merapi's recorded history, Surono said, came from magma located between 8 and 15 kilometers below the crater, accounting for the high pressure and explosive eruptions.

Before the eruptions, he said, the mountain had released 144 tons of sulphus dioxide. After the eruptions, it was up to 250,000 kilotons. "This is a drastic increase."

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