Indonesia should not forget Lapindo mudflow disaster: The Jakarta Post

Survivors dressed as women, to show their support for the women who lost their livelihoods, take part in a parade to mark the 10th anniversary of the mudflow disaster in the Sidoarjo district of Java island, on May 29, 2016.
Survivors dressed as women, to show their support for the women who lost their livelihoods, take part in a parade to mark the 10th anniversary of the mudflow disaster in the Sidoarjo district of Java island, on May 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on May 31, the paper questions the actions taken to address issues raised by the disaster.

What can the people of Sidoarjo in East Java, who have been displaced by a mudflow disaster, and the whole nation expect from the state to ensure their rights are protected and that a similar tragedy to that which struck 10 years ago will not reoccur?

The statement of Sidoarjo Regent Saiful Ilah, who called on the victims to forget the calamity and start their life anew, is discouraging.

It will be another disaster for those who have been made to suffer if the regent's view is representative of that of policy makers.

"The Lapindo mudflow has buried our villages. The state has forgotten to help us rebuild our lives. Our voices will not die down," reads the headstone of a tomb laid on the mudflow area to mark the tragedy.

On Sunday, dozens of people gathered near the tomb to pray not only for their own well-being but also for the government to not sweep the lingering problems caused by the mud disaster under the rug now that most of those displaced have been compensated.

Many questions have remained unanswered after a decade that passed quickly for most of us who did not have to feel the sorrow of seeing hot mud submerge our homes, playgrounds, villages and even the graves of our parents. 

As of Monday, more than 100 families are still yet to receive compensation, according to government body Sidoarjo Mud Mitigation Agency ( BPLS ) data.

The agency, like Mr Saiful, has said administrative matters had slowed down payment of the compensation, but added that they would be solved soon.

However, such a fundamental question as why the state has settled for a certain scientific study that concluded the mudflow was a natural disaster, whilst another study, which was also scientifically valid, found human error was behind the mudflow, has never been addressed. 

Nevertheless the government agreed to share the burden by compensating those living outside the directly affected areas, while PT Lapindo Brantas, the operator of the gas field where the epicenter of the disaster is located, is handling people within the most-affected areas.

Worse still, the government has agreed to absolve PT Lapindo of any financial responsibility for the compensation.

Perhaps such state generosity, such taxpayer-funded generosity, is a cynical reflection of how well the principle of gotong royong ( mutual help ) characterises how Indonesia works.

The controversy does not stop there.

PT Lapindo, partly owned by the family of Golkar Party chief patron Aburizal Bakrie, has proposed a new drilling project close to the hotspots, ignoring the trauma of the residents and the fact that the mud is still flowing. 

A recent study conducted by Surabaya's November 10 Institute of Technology upon the request of East Java Governor Soekarwo found that land had subsided by 5 centimeters per year since 2010 in villages where the new drilling projects will take place.

History shows this is a nation that easily forgives, something that deserves plaudits.

But this is exactly the loophole that many parties tend to capitalise on to evade taking care of their responsibilities.

There are indeed efforts to make us forget the deprivation of human rights caused by the Lapindo mudflow disaster.

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The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.