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East Java mudflow victims battling persistent health threats
Publication Date : 04-03-2013
The failure to mitigate and to stop the mudflow that started in 2006 in Porong, Sidoarjo, in East Java, Indonesia, has severely damaged the environment and threatens public health surrounding the area.
Some residents claim that they know several families suffering from cancer and other diseases.
Harwati, a local, said her husband died of lung cancer four years ago.
“The mudflow has polluted our air and water. My husband used to be a very healthy man, but after years of exposure his lung began to deteriorate and we then found out that he had developed cancer,” she said.
Harwati said that she received no assistance for her husband’s treatment from Lapindo Brantas, the company that initally drilled a hole in search of gas in the area, causing the mudflow.
“Many members of my family and neighbours have also begun showing symptoms of cancer,” she said.
Skin rashes and cysts are common among mudflow victims, according to Harwati.
Another resident, Agus Kholiq, said it was difficult for the victims to escape exposure to pollution due to the mudflow management policies of Lapindo and the Sidoarjo Mudflow Mitigation Agency (BPLS).
“They simply mix the mud and water from rainfall with their machinery and then they dump the highly polluted mix in the nearby Porong river,” Agus said.
The BPLS on its official website says that the decision to channel the mud into the Porong river is the only viable option presently, given that there is no sign of the mudflow eruption stopping in the near future.
“The main purpose is to mitigate the possibility of the mudflow expanding its coverage,” the BPLS says.
BPLS deputy operations chief Soffian Joyopranoto had also said that as of now, the mitigation agency still could not predict when the flow would stop.
The Porong river itself is one of the creeks of the Brantas river, which has also been heavily polluted by industrial waste.
Both Harwati and Agus have managed to secure a portion of compensation from the government and Lapindo. They are now able to at least relocate to a safer place near the affected area. Yet their current residencies are still prone towards air and water pollution.
Agus said that his family had to use yellowish and salty water for bathing.
“If you take a bath using water from this area, your skin will itch and sooner or later, rashes will start to appear,” he said.
At times, Agus said, if his family managed to save enough money, they would buy bottled water for bathing. “Bottled water is very expensive for daily use. So, we probably only buy it once a week to get a feel for clean water,” he said.
Sanitation and access to clean water is worse in residencies within the mudflow affected areas, such as the Kedungbendo village.
The villagers still refuse to relocate because they say they have not received a single cent of compensation for their loss.
Kedungbendo is regularly hit by floods during rain and residents use nearby water streams, which have been polluted by mud, oil from mud processing machines and human excrement, for their sanitation and water needs.
Hastuti Martiningsih, a resident and also the widow of late Kedungbendo village head Hasan, said that apart from physical hazards, residents have also endured endless stress in the last seven years.
“My husband was one victim of both physical pain and stress. As a village head, he was responsible for making sure the residents received full compensation. He was so overwhelmed by this that he forgot to treat his diabetes properly and died a few months ago,” she said.
“I really do hope Lapindo is willing to pay our compensation fully using a one-time payment instead of monthly installments, so we can relocate to a safer place.”
Lapindo executive Andi Darussalam has promised that their debt will be fully paid in May. ”I just pray that this is not another empty promise,” Martiningsih said.
Meanwhile, an early detection cancer specialist at Dharmais Cancer Hospital in Jakarta said residents nearby the mudflow should immediately move out of the area because the longer they were exposed to pollution, the more prone they would be to cancer and other diseases.
“Constant exposure to the polluted water and environment will surely increase the possibility of cancer,” she said.