No happy ending for mud victims


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Daily news

December 15, 2006
Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, Sidoarjo

The firm at the heart of the mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo, East Java might have agreed to buy all affected land, houses and rice fields but problems remain.

Arifah, 17, ended up in Bhayangkara Hospital in Porong with burns to 35 percent of her body after slipping into the hot mud. She was on her way to the home of relatives to help them pack up to leave for a shelter in Pasar Baru market when she slipped right into the hot mud. Lapindo Brantas Inc. did not cover all the medical bills.

"I was intending to help a relative whose house had been surrounded by hot mud. My relative wanted to evacuate," she told The Jakarta Post.

The hot mud, which has been gushing out of Lapindo's exploration site since May 29, has shown no signs of stopping, forcing more than 10,000 people to abandon their houses and others to lose their sources of livelihood.

And the hot mud, which triggered a recent gas pipeline blast that killed 13 people, continues to be a danger.

"There continues to be a threat to your safety. The turnpike bridge has started to subside and crack and the dikes are prone to collapse since the wet season started around Porong. People should be very careful since there's no guarantee from the government or Lapindo," said the coordinator of rescue and evacuation volunteers, Adjie.

He said the pipeline blast was a clear example that there was no guarantee for people's safety or lives at the mudflow site.

"I'd heard about the danger posed by the pipeline but I can't understand why it is being moved only after it claimed lives...," he said.

Dian, 30, is moving to the market before the mud completely engulfs her home.

Currently, some 8,000 people are taking shelter in the market and more might come since residents living two kilometers away from the site have started abandoning their houses.

"Every night when it's cloudy, I feel worried, fearing the dikes will collapse. It seems like the national team in charge of dealing with the disaster are working half-heartedly... the mud has submerged 8,000 houses in Tanggulangin Sejahtera housing complex but it's not clear whether Lapindo is paying compensation or not," Dian said.

Hundreds of residents from the housing complex have threatened to continue to hold protests. They have been protesting twice a week but it is not clear whether Lapindo will compensate them.

Land expert from Surabaya's Airlangga University, Urip Santoso, said Lapindo should compensate the housing complex owners.

"Legally, Lapindo should also provide renumeration for all damages experienced by victims who are directly or indirectly affected by the mud," he said.

He said problems would continue to develop in the coming days since the company's agreement to purchase all affected land, houses and rice fields was not legally binding.

For instance, he said the company had not made public the criteria for the land, houses and rice fields it would purchase or the status of the land after the transaction was made.

Operational manager of Surabaya's Legal Aid Institute, Attoilah, said the deal between Lapindo and residents was like a campaign to please residents but legally it was very weak.

"If it's a deal, there should be written proof. But there's no written evidence. You may recall how Vice President Jusuf Kalla promised to replace the houses of Yogya quake victims but the promise did not materialize," he said.