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Three Years After Eruption, Victims of Indonesian Mud Volcano Await Compensation

  • Solenn Honorine


Three years ago, burning gray mud erupted from the earth, in the Sidoarjo region of the Indonesian island of Java. Since then, the mud volcano has forced 12,000 families to flee their homes. A drilling company is accused of triggering the eruption, but some victims of the volcano are still waiting compensation for their lost property.

A year ago, Lilik Kaminah and her two children were living in a scant 10 square-meter stall in a deserted market place, together with 600 other families who had fled the burning mud flow. She called it a tragedy: she lost her land, her house, all of her life savings.

Still waiting

A year later, not much has changed in her life.

In a telephone interview, Lilik explains that she is still waiting for most of the compensation she is entitled to for her lost property. She says the money is the only way for her to start rebuilding her life.

The volcano has swallowed villages and farms, leaving more than 40,000 people homeless.

Lapindo is an Indonesian oil and gas company that was drilling near the epicenter of the volcano. Some geology experts say its drilling may have caused the eruption. Lapindo says the volcano was triggered by an earthquake and denies any responsibility for the disaster. Still, the company has promised to compensate its victims.

But the global economic crisis hit the Bakrie conglomerate, which owns Lapindo. Yuniwati, a Lapindo representative, says that total payments should be made by 2010.

"We have the intention to settle everything by June [2010]," Yuniwati said, "but unfortunately at this moment we have a global crisis. If it [the compensation] was only borne by Lapindo itself, it would be impossible. That's why Bakrie helps Lapindo."

Court decision deals blow to victims

This week, Indonesia's Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit claiming that Lapindo and government officials were to blame for the disaster and failed to fully compensate the victims.

Victims of the mud volcano have no hope of returning to their land. It lies under a huge lake of mud that sprawls 640 hectares - twice the size of New York's Central Park - and is still growing.

Sumarsono heads the Indonesian government's mud flow mitigation team. He says that there is no way to predict when the volcano will stop gushing. Some have been active for decades.

For now, victims from the mud volcano are organizing demonstrations to demand their compensation money. For them, it is the only way to get new land, new homes, and their lives back on track.

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