Indonesia’s mudflow requires divine intervention?

Updated On: Sep 12, 2006

Indonesia’s environmental crises go beyond tectonic plate movements.

Another subsurface woe is brimming to the fore with potentially uncontrollable proportions, exposing the lack of political will and its socio-environmental costs.

A new mudflow has been discovered in Sidoarjo, East Java last Thursday morning near the Nurul Hikmah Islamic boarding school in Jatirejo village, around a kilometre near the disaster central, Lapindo Brantas Inc.'s well. Eyewitness accounts revealed how the eruption first started as small ground "bubble" but later grew bigger and turned into a 30-centimetre high dome.

Lapindo’s mitigation efforts include drilling down thousands of feet at shallow angles in spots kilometres away from the disaster's centre to seal off the mud issuing from Banjir Panji-1, but its effect remains unclear, especially with the recent mudflow outburst since the first incident began on May 29.

The mudflow problem has been labelled as a “mud volcano” to denote its status as a natural disaster initially sparked by human negligence, namely Lapindo’s drilling mismanagement. Its severity is summed up by National Development University geologist Soffian Hadi as follows: "Mud volcanoes can't be stopped. If Lapindo can stop it, it will be a blessing from God".

The locals have stretched Soffian’s words to the extreme by appealing to divine intervention. The Kedung Bendo village head and wealthy businessman, Hasan, has organised a competition (with an Rp 100 million (US$10,869) prize) to draw psychics from the country to end the disaster.

After midnight, 50 mystics can be found at the Banjir Panji-1well, calling on spirits and performing other supernatural powers to stop the mudflow. Thus far, according to the contest coordinator, Titus, none have achieved success.

The paranormal competition has demonstrated public response to the absurdity of how the situation has escalated, especially since more than 9,000 people have been rendered homeless and more than 1,800 people jobless. More importantly, the contest reveals an increasing sense of helplessness over its resolution, as trillions of rupiah in damages continue to pile up.

Elsewhere, a psychic from Jakarta, Dony Harahap’s comments are particularly telling: “Many people may not accept that we have supernatural powers…but (from my work) it is clear that the mudflow can only be stopped if the government and Lapindo end their sinful acts, which are affecting the people”.

What have the government and Lapindo done so far?

Lapindo has announced plans to siphon the water from the mud to the sea by treating it first. However, environmentalists have criticised that the plan may increase the disaster’s geographic spread. A more worrisome report has been circulated where witnesses claimed the company had been dumping contaminated water from the Sidoarjo mudflow directly into the Porong River without treatment. Lapindo in return, has denied the report. Yet, Lapindo spokesperson Yuniwati Teryana confirmed on September 9 that the direct dumping would be adopted as the “worst alternative”.

The government has permitted the deployment of around 1,400 soldiers and supporting personnel from the Brawijaya (East Java) military command to build more ponds in five villages in Sidoarjo to curb the mudflow by October 11. Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparman has also offered resettlement for the mudflow victims as part of the country’s new transmigration programme.

Lapindo, however, is a company indirectly controlled by the family of Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie, and the blurring of such lines have stalled government action against the company. Airlangga University sociologist Hotman Siahaan, has accused the government of lacking the will to properly deal with the problem. According to him, “the House of Representatives members have visited the site frequently but have said nothing about defending the people”.

Others have been calling for the government and Lapindo to evacuate the residents before the mid-September rainy season begins, which would exacerbate the mudflow problem. President SBY has also been urged to form an action-oriented non-bureaucratic organization with direct presidential mandate to spur political action on resolving the disaster.

Before divine intervention and nature fights back again, the government and Lapindo must take further concrete actions to demonstrate accountability to the affected peoples and environs.


President urged to form non-bureaucratic organization to handle Lapindo mudflow (Antara, 8 September 2006)

New mudflow spotted in Porong (The Jakarta Post, 8 September 2006)

Minister offers mudflow victims to live in new resettlement areas (Antara, 8 September 2006)

Paranormals called in to end mudflow (The Jakarta Post, 9 September 2006)

Lapindo dumps water into river: Observers say (The Jakarta Post, 9 September 2006)

If urgent, mud water channeled to Porong river and sea (Antara, 9 September 2006)