by Kiking Syarif
[Yogyakarta, LTTW] Mount Merapi, whose intensity as of late appears to have begun subsiding, is in reality an active volcano in need of vigilant observation. So long as no technology exists to stop the supply of magma and gas from within Merapi’s womb, it is certain that Mount Merapi’s risk perception – as well as risk perception towards other natural disasters in Indonesia – continue to be quite important.
And really Merapi has erupted quite explosively several times before, each time causing extraordinary fatalities. In 1930 for example, the Merapi eruption of that time caused lava flow, pyroclastic flows (heated clouds of gas & rock sediments), and banjir lahar mud flows which destroyed 13 villages and caused 1,400 deaths. According to the BPNP (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency), recapitulated data of victims and refugees due to the Merapi eruption starting from October 29, 2010 is as follows:
Data per November 23, 2010
Data per December 1, 2010
Official data of material loss due to this Merapi eruption, to the time this article is published, has still yet to be obtainable. Calculating the material loss due to the Merapi eruption is not an easy task because the variables in each sector is of course unique. Estimated material loss in farming sectors at 4 districts: Sleman, Magelang, Klaten, and Boyolali, is predicted to reach over Rp 1 trillion, or over USD 112 billion at current exchange rates. The Farming authority of Sleman district calculates it at around Rp 232 billion (±USD 25,77 million). The largest loss was experienced by salak pondoh fruit farmers at total cost around Rp 200 billion (±USD 22 million) over 1,400 hectares of land, then rice fields at Rp 1.7 billion (USD 189.000) over 170 hectares of land, decorative plants at Rp 1 billion (±USD 112.000), horticulture and vegetables losses reaching Rp 30 billion (±USD 3.3 million) at over 700 hectares of land.
And this is not counting the material losses at several other important sectors, which also halted due to the Merapi eruption, in particular the tourism and arts & crafts industries. According to information from a renowned news agency, estimated material loss due to the Merapi eruption is predicted to reach Rp 5 trillion, or about USD 556 million (Tempo Interaktif, Yogyakarta, Thursday edition, November 18, 2010)
Another important note must also be made, regarding eruption mitigation at Merapi, that there is a need for adjustment and improvement in disaster responsiveness at the local and national levels. Many parties criticize the BPNP that they had been at less than full alert and had been ineffective in coordinating disaster response efforts. A lesson which should be learned from this Merapi eruption phenomenon is how we perceive a natural disaster event. All the possibilities in how a disaster would play out, and the severity of what could possibly happen, as well as how to anticipate it, and how to respond to overcome it. Knowledge of all symptoms of natural disaster, and the behavioral vigilance that needs to be had when disaster strikes, these must be a point of attention for all of us, especially for communities living in disaster-prone areas.
According to Antonius WK of The Indonesian Institute, disaster risk perception truly is a complex thing. A person’s perception would diverge from one person to another, even towards the same subject – including towards the same particular risk of disaster. For one person, a certain condition could be considered dangerous, yet for another person, the same condition is not considered dangerous yet. Psychological factors, such as traditional knowledge and beliefs, self-confidence in overcoming disaster, and inaccurate perceptions of possible events, could cause risk perception to become fatal.
Another thing which also makes an interesting note is the presence and involvement of volunteers in eruption recovery activities at Merapi. The volunteers, whom mostly consist of young individuals from various Indonesian cities, are quite adept and alert in carrying out disaster recovery activities – each according to their own expertise. Their presence at disaster locations are of personal initiative and funding. When the big eruption happened at around 1:30am, November 5, 2010, several fellow volunteers fell victim and for some of them, we could not recover their remains.
“… not only to bear up under every necessity, but to love it. Live dangerously, erect your cities beside Vesuvius. Send out your ships to unexplored seas. Live in a state of war”.
Author: Kiking Syarif
A journalist photographer, IT consultant, founder of Yayasan Luka Bakar, and one of the research team members of Sacred Bridge Foundation’s Trowulan program.