14.000 People Still Homeless

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Fr. A. Suyadi, SJ. on a visit to Singlar Hamlet, Glagaharjo Village, Cangkringan Sub-district, Sleman District, Yogyakarta.

 “I held Ananda against my chest on a motorcycle to flee for life. The crew of a water tank truck that was there for the evacuation took me and my grandchild aboard the vehicle straight away,” said Murtini, Ananda’s grandmother. She fled away to save her life after hearing the loud noise of Mt Merapi’s eruption. It was around 1 o’clock in the morning of 5 November 2010. The area was terribly dark, covered with volcanic ash, hot lava and cloud. “Luckily, it was raining at the same time. If not, I’m sure more victims would have fallen as the ash and sand was very hot”, Murtini’s husband interrupted.

Ananda, the 35-day old infant had to be taken for evacuation as  hot lava and cloud of the Merapi volcano was likely to come at any moment. Ananda Ramadani is the first child of Henti Nurjanah and Supriyanto. Before the evacuation truck came, Ananda was in the arms of her grandma Murtini, who was struggling to get rid of the danger by getting a ride on a motorbike. It was absolutely chaotic, as everyone was trying to save his or her own life. They didn’t know where they should go to. Also, no clear directions of safe routes were given at that time. As a result a number of people wrongly fled towards river Gendol bridge which had been struck by the lava flood.

It was Friday morning (5 November 2010) when Mt Merapi was on the height of its eruption period. All residents of Dusun Singlar, Glagaharjo, Cangkringan (Sleman regency), who had gathered in an appointed evacuation centre were forced to flee further down since hot lava and cloud was about to reach their evacuation centre.

Now Ananda and her family have just moved from Gantiwarno, Klaten to a family house at Dusun Singlar still undamaged by the eruption. “This place is the eight evacuation shelter we’ve been staying”, said Murtini while rocking Ananda, her grandchild, on her arms. One hundred and twenty six families (of 2 neighbourhood units/RT) at Dusun Singlar have lost absolutely everything as a result of the Merapi eruption. Lava has obliterated their houses, cattle, properties, estates and livelihood. Three people were buried alive and their bodies have never been found even after the evacuation teams have tried to find them many times. “All we can do now is pray for their souls … and nothing else,” said Paidi, 38 years, commenting on the fate of his 3 fellow residents of the village who’ve never been found.

They don’t know what they should plan for their future. “If asked now, I’d say, I’d dare not live here anymore”, said Supriyanto, whose house is no longer visible after completely buried under the cold lava flood. “My house was once there,” he added while pointing at the large spread of sand where no signs of buildings are seen. “All of my milk cows have been buried by the lava.  We’ve lost our livelihood. In the past we could earn some money from the cow milk … now all we’ve got is a memory of the past”, Paidi said of his past time.

At present they are waiting to move again to another evacuation cantre, in a temporary shelter the authorities are building in Banjarsari, Glagaharjo, Cangkringan, Sleman. The waiting time – full of uncertainty –  is getting longer.

They, the Singlar village residents, are not alone. Over 10,000 people, or 2,526 families, are experiencing the same fate. All of them are from the Sleman regency (2,551 families from Cangkringan district and another 15 families from Ngemplak district. These numbers constitute only to the people who have vacated their villages as the Merapi eruption has burnt their houses and shelters. Now there are also fresh evacuees. They are victims of the disaster that followed – the cold lava floodings. By mid of January 2011 about 5000 people were forced to flee their houses, when cold lava struck and buried their villages. Their number, despite unwantedly, is likely to increase if rains continue to pour down on Merapi slopes and create more cold lava floods. About 140 million cubic meters of cold lava are still accumulating on the volcano’s slopes.

In providing shelters for the evacuees who haven’t returned or cannot return to their houses, the regional administrations of Yogyakarta and Central Java are constructing temporary bamboo shelters at safe locations close to the evacuees’ villages. The construction is expected to be completed  by the end of January 2011. But with the more lava floodings taking place in some areas the construction work may be delayed.

 “I’ve got no idea when the temporary shelter will be ready and don’t know when we will be housed there”, said an evacuee from Dusun Petung, Kepuharjo, who is still staying temporarily in a Wukirsari villager’s house.

Up to now, the authorities are still unable to finalise any long term and durable plans for the victims’ future. In general there three options in this process, i.e. to return to their villages of origin, to be relocated or to permanently live in the resettlement centres or temporary residential shelters now under construction.

Will they be able to realise their dreams to return to their villages? According to the Volcanology Research and Development Bureau (BPTK), Yogyakarta office, as release by Media Indonesia daily, eight villages of the evacuees are impossible to be re-occupied any longer. They are Dusun Kinahrejo, Ngrangkah, Pungukrejo (Umbulharjo village), Petung, Kaliadem, Jambu, Kopeng (Kepuharjo village) and Kalingah Lor (Glagaharjo village). All of them are within the territory of Cangkringan district, Sleman regency, Yogyakarta Special Province. About over a thousand families previously lived in these eight villages.

Adrianus Suyadi, SJ

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