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In shadows of Indonesian volcano, a winding road to recovery

Four years after the last eruption of Mount Merapi, local residents are still trying to rebuild

Harry Pearl for the Jakarta Globe, Yogyakarta

Harry Pearl for the Jakarta Globe, Yogyakarta

Updated: December 04, 2014 07:16 PM GMT
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In shadows of Indonesian volcano, a winding road to recovery

Two women wait to sell merchandise to visitors. Volcano tourism is one of the fledgling industries around Mount Merapi (Photo by JG Photo/Boy T Harjanto)

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A week after Indonesia’s most volatile volcano erupted in 2010, Djana returned to his village in Klaten, Central Java, to find it buried beneath three meters of rock and sand.

His house, like everything else in Kaliadem village, was wiped out when Mount Merapi spewed scorching hot gas and rock down its slopes.

“I was sad, devastated, but there was nothing I could do,” the 37-year-old father of one said.

“I felt I wasn’t alone, my neighbors lost their houses, too.”

The eruption on October 26, and several that followed, demolished parts of Sleman, Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten districts. Thousands of homes were destroyed and 349 people were killed.

Djana, a farmer, lost all four of his cattle and spent the next two years jobless, moving from one crowded shelter to the next with his wife and young son.

Damage and loss from the eruption totaled Rp3.68 trillion (US$299 million), Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said. The loss to the local economy was estimated to be Rp1.6 trillion, a toll of about 40 percent.

Four years later, however, there are numerous signs of recovery — although improvement has been uneven and remains below target overall.

Signs of recovery

In Yogyakarta, 3,424 homes were damaged in the eruption, slightly more than double the number in Central Java. But recovery in the housing sector has reached pre-disaster levels, and in some areas exceeded it, according to a disaster recovery index piloted in affected communities.

The local economy has also improved substantially since immediately after the eruption. Average incomes have climbed steadily in affected areas and are now higher than before the eruption, according to the survey company that authored the index.

At his modest, cinder-block home in Pagerjurang, a relocation site of 301 households, Djana said he never imagined he would have a house, car, or his life back.

He said the level of assistance provided by central and local governments had been adequate, but his new life wasn’t without challenges.

“I am a farmer. I had four cows for milking but they all died,” Djana said.

“I now do whatever I can turn my hands to; I build houses, mine sand, whatever I can to get money for my family.”

Like hundreds of others left jobless after the eruption, Djana has been forced to seek whatever employment he can, even if that means giving up a life-long vocation.

Fledgling industries

While agriculture and horticulture, traditionally economic mainstays of communities on Mount Merapi, have been severely impacted by the eruption, new industries have flourished.

Volcano tourism, transportation and sand mining have all been big growth areas, people involved in the recovery process say.

“People have not just sat quietly and waited for a gift from heaven,” said Bondan S. Sikoki, the founder of SurveyMeter, which has carried out two longitudinal surveys in the four affected districts.

“They have also shifted jobs. Most of the shifting has been from farming to trading and services.”

Mining of Mount Merapi’s high-quality volcanic sand has been a big driver of economic recovery, too. Scores of trucks carrying the material, which is used to make cement, barrel down the slopes of the 2,930-meter volcano 24 hours a day.

Mining of river beds and other areas flooded with volcanic material has become a lucrative industry and a key source of employment for local people. It also has an important disaster prevention role: minimizing the risk of lahar, volcanic mud torrents, triggered by bouts of heavy rain.

But mining — and the communities’ reliance on it — is having disastrous effects on Mount Merapi’s roads and bridges, many of which are now in worse condition than immediately after the volcano erupted.

Roads on the volcano’s slopes are more often than not rutted and potholed, in some sections they are completely washed out.

Faced with a volcano which has erupted regularly since 1548, the state of local infrastructure has some recovery agencies anxious.

“If Merapi erupts, these are also evacuation roads — it’s very dangerous,” said Frans Tolgimin, coordinator of the Merapi Disaster Risk Reduction forum.

Road to disaster?

Frans said the local government needed to think clearly about how to manage the issue and suggested maybe the trucks’ tonnage needed to be limited.

His views are echoed by Rinto Andriono, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project coordinator for Merapi recovery and response, who says he has asked local government to do a cost-benefit study on the mining.

He said infrastructure and disaster preparedness would continue to decline if sand mining went on unchecked.

“Infrastructure is getting worse and the evacuation way for high-risk communities becomes a serious problem,” Rinto said.

While reconstruction and recovery between 2010 and 2012 reached planned targets, over the past two years progress has stalled and, in some areas, declined.

All four districts affected by the eruption are below 2014 recovery targets, according to the Merapi Disaster Recovery Index (DRI), a standardized tool used to measure post-disaster recovery.

The index, an initiative between the BNPB, the UNDP and disaster management agencies in Yogyakarta and Central Java, showed that was largely a result of the poor quality of roads, bridges and public transportation access.

But it also noted disaster preparedness and restoration of agricultural land was going backward.

Rinto said the UNDP was worried things could deteriorate further as the central government wound up aid this year.

“We are trying to disseminate this information to the local government to say that this is a serious problem,” he said.

As the government pulls out, the drive toward full reconstruction is likely to slow, people involved in coordinating recovery told the Jakarta Globe.

But the provincial governments of Yogyakarta and Central Java have a useful tool in the DRI, which allows them to see what areas are in need of attention.

“We hope the government will use that information [from the DRI] to plan and re-plan the recovery process,” Rinto said.

Recovery was a multi-year process, he said. And for communities on the flanks of Mount Merapi, it’s still going on.

The Jakarta Globe was invited to Mount Merapi by the UNDP.


Original Story: Road to recovery leads back to disaster

Source: Jakarta Globe

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