Hundreds of houses in three villages were inundated with mud in Sidoardjo in February, and thousands of people were displaced from their homes, forcing them to live in makeshift tents erected along an abandoned toll road.
While the sturdier structures in the three villages — Besuki, Kedung Cangkring and Renokenongo — were left inundated with mud and are now homes to various animals, the wooden houses were merely turned into rubble.
“Most residents no longer have the courage to enter the ghost-like houses. We have left them to serve as silent witnesses to the disaster that has devastated not only our assets but also our community and future,” 54-year-old Paimin of Besuki told The Jakarta Post here Saturday.
Another resident, 80-year old Muana, said that for the past eight months her family had lived without possessions and without hope.
“I rely on my two children and their three grandchildren who are now staying with me in this bamboo hut,” she said.
Muana’s 40-year-old daughter Munifah and 35-year-old son Ismael and their families have been living in the four meter by six meter hut since the mudflow submerged their makeshift houses in Besuki.
They have made their livings as street vendors at a nearby housing compound ever since Lapindo Brantas Inc., an energy company that operates the mining site in Porong district that triggered the devastation, stopped distributing humanitarian aid last May.
“We were hopeless and desperate when our aging mother contracted diarrhea. We had to borrow some money from neighbors so we could take her to a doctor at the nearby public health center,” said Munifah, who looks far older than her eight years.
She said many people, including her mother, had contracted diarrhea after consuming water from ground wells that had been contaminated by toxic mud.
Ismael said the village’s residents had received nothing from the government or Lapindo despite promises of immediate compensation for mudflow victims made by BPLS, the government agency tasked with handling the disaster.
“BPLS and the village head have frequently come here to make sure that the government will pay the compensation soon but so far we have been given empty promises,” he said.
Many people claiming they are refugees, he said, have filed complaints with BPLS and the local administration. They attempted to stage a protest against Lapindo, he said, but the company’s middlemen thwarted the attempt.
He said the damage to his house and farmland had been assessed by the local government, and that he and all of the other village residents had been informed of the amount of compensation they were due, but that they had never received it.
“We are not beggars but we have been left without answers. The government should have paid the compensation 14 days after the deal (on compensation payment) was signed,” he said, adding that the deal was signed in early August.
Besuki, Kedung Cangkring and Renokenongo are among nine villages that were devastated by the February mudflow.
Four villages were destroyed by a mudflow that hit on May 29, 2006, creating a giant lake of mud.
Some of the residents of the four villages received 20 percent of the compensation promised to them. They continue to demand the remaining 80 percent.
Some of the 600 residents of Renokenongo village currently living in makeshift shelters inside Porong market said they were disappointed Lapindo had broken its promise to pay the compensation last month.
“Lapindo committed to paying the compensation once it had finished assessing the residents’ damaged assets in mid September. Yet, they have given no reasons for why the payments have been suspended,” said Pitanto, coordinator of the Renokenongo mudflow victims association.
Pitanto also called on non-governmental and religious organizations to help encourage Lapindo and the government to immediately pay the compensation to the mudflow victims.
BPLS spokesman Zulkarnaen said the government would disburse Rp 160 billion immediately to pay 20 percent of the total compensation to the residents of the three villages located outside the disaster location.
“The compensation will be paid immediately to 1,481 victims from the three villages,” he said, but declined to name a date for the payment.
Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post