Indonesia's mudflow and bird flu disaster a growing concern

Updated On: Sep 29, 2006

Indonesia's present human security threats leave no room for public fatigue. Besides frequent seismic and volcanic activity, the nation continues to experience an uncontrollable mudflow problem in East Java and new clusters of bird flu infections.   

Every day, around 50,000 cubic metres (1.75 million cubic feet) of mud pour out of the Banjar Panji-1 well - believed to originate from a reservoir some 6,000m below the ground.  Preventive dams were breached with the mudflow affecting an area of 400 hectares in Porong, Sidoarjo district. Foreign experts such asUniversityof Oslogeology professor Adriano Mazzini even predicted that the mud crisis may go on for the next century.

President SBY has declared Porong a disaster-prone area unfit for human habitation, and a decision will soon be made for pumping the mud into the sea via thePorongRiver. Lapindo Brantas (the company partly responsible for the problems) has also been ordered by the President to pay at least 1.5 trillion rupiah (about S$200 million) to manage the problem. This does not include compensation for the displaced numbering more than 10,000 and the repair and re-routing costs for a major highway, train tracks and gas pipes. Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto told reporters on September 26 that “almost 3,000 households from four villages will be resettled [to West Porong] and will be given money to rent a house for two years”.

Based on a three-year scenarios exercise should the mudflow problem remains, the East Java Council of Experts recommended that “around 10,000 families will have to be relocated, the toll road will have to be sacrificed and the mudflow slowly diverted to move in an eastern direction toward the sea so that it can stop next to mangrove forests”.  Attempts are also made to dig three shafts alongside the hole and pump in concrete to stem the eruption, but most geologists reported the futility of such a move.

The preparation work for re-channelling the mud into the sea includes the installation of three pumps that are capable of moving a total of 45,000 cubic metres of mud a day, and will be in operation early next month. Even though the mud will have adverse impact on marine life, Public Works Minister Kirmanto, along with environmental groups, acknowledged that saving the villages and resettling the displaced occupy a higher priority at the moment. While Indonesian officials intended to explore the option of treating the mud first before channelling into the sea, the plan could take months to be approved.

Concerns over where the mud is to be dumped have generated social protest. The East Java Police in response, have issued a shoot-on-sight order against anybody trying to disrupt activities of the National Mudflow Mitigation Team at the disaster site, in order to safeguard public and state facilities. According to Greater Surabaya Police chief Sr. Comr. Anang Iskandar on September 26, "the police also will shoot any anarchical demonstrators, whose actions could lead to the destruction of state facilities, both at Banjar Panji-1 well or other locations throughout East Java”. Thus far, 1,089 officers have been posted to the Banjar Panji -1 well area.

Dozens of mudflow victims from three villages in Ngoro district, Kunjoro Wesi, Wates Ngoro and Munduro, have staged a second rally in front of the Mojokerto Legislative Council building on September 26 to express their opposition against the dumping of hot mud in their areas, as they fear the possibility of the mud overflowing during the rainy season and inundating their villages.

The following day saw Greenpeace activists demonstrating outside the welfare ministry in Jakarta, to demand accountability from senior welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie, whose family controls Lapindo Brantas.

Elsewhere, the bird flu has claimed yet another victim - the nation's 52nd - this time a 20 year old man who died in BandungWest Java. His brother died earlier on September 24 with symptoms of bird flu, but samples could not be taken for testing, and his sister had also been hospitalized with high fever and respiratory problems. Authorities had suspected a new cluster case - human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus - but the Health Ministry reported that the sister had tested negative, and only one confirmed case out of the three siblings could not count as a cluster.

The Naggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) province also announced on September 27 that around eight of its 21 districts have been positively affected by bird flu (H5N1 virus) which had attacked chickens in those regions.

To address the recurrent flu cases, the National Committee for the Handling of Bird Flue and Influenza Pandemy (Komnas FBPI) announced on September 26 that a government team consisting of elements from the Health Ministry, Bird Flu Management Campaign Unit of the Agriculture Ministry, Livestock, Fishery and Marine offices and Jakarta representative health office, would be established to stop the outbreak.  Despite all the international pledges of fund to help Indonesiaovercome the pandemic, local capacity and seriousness in tackling the problem remains in question.  


Govt team to take follow-up actions on latest bird flu death (Antara, 26 September 2006)

E Java experts give governor inputs on worst scenario of Porong mudflow (Antara, 26 September 2006)

Eight districts in Aceh positively affected by bird flu (Antara, 27 September 2006)

Govt to decide mud discharge Wednesday (Jakarta Post, 27 September 2006)

A 100-year mud crisis for Java? (The Guardian, 27 September 2006)

Greenpeace Slings Mud over Indonesia Mudflow Disaster (Reuters, 27 September 2006)

Mud-hit area declared a disaster zone (The Straits Times, 27 September 2006)

Shoot-on-sight order set for 'anarchical' mudflow protests (Jakarta Post, 27 September 2006)

Bird flu patient dies, raising country's toll to 52 (Jakarta Post, 28 September 2006)

Protesters pour 700 kg of mud outside Aburizal's office (Jakarta Post, 28 September 2006)

President declares Porong mudflow area dangerous (Antara, 28 September 2006)