Zeitschrift SUARA

Lapindo mud volcano in Sidoardjo

Suara No. 1/09, August 2009

by Marianne Klute

Translated into English by biofuelwatch, September 2009

The scale of the catastrophe becomes apparent only from the air: A layer of mud has covered sixteen villages, schools, rice paddies, even the motorway to Surabaya. More than 50,000 people who lived here until three years ago have lost everything. People continue to survive in tents. They see themselves as victims of Indonesia’s biggest environmental scandal.


Cartoon: Corporate Watch

End of May 2006: Lapindo Brantas, a company which belongs to the Bakrie Group, drills 2,845 metres deep during gas explorations. On 29th May, hot water suddenly pours into the bore hold under high pressure. From a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 metres, 1 million cubic metre of toxic mud shoot up to the surface. Four villages are quickly flooded, one hundred people die, some 12,000 lost their homes. They require medical treatment after inhaling poisonous sulphuric fumes.

Attempts to block the mud volcano fail. The volcano spews ever more mud; more and more villages disappear under the mud flow. It stinks of sulphuric fumes. Scientists predict that the mud volcano will remain active for years to come. British consultants at GeoPressure Technology suggest that it could continue for up to 140 years.

It may never be able to show with certainty whether the catastrophe had natural causes or was the result of human activities. Bakrie insists on natural causes, most scientists, however, see it differently. Medco Energy, the company responsible for supplying the technical equipment, has stated that Lapindo Brantas had not properly secured the bore hole.

Bakrie has largely divested itself of all responsibility, by selling Lapindo Brantas for one dollar. Most victims are still waiting for compensation. Much of the promised payments of 250 Euros continue to be delayed. Some of that money has reached the victims and has been used to rent flats. Money for new rice paddies and thus for creating new livelihoods are not on the table. Bakrie maintain that the victims themselves are at fault since, according to the company, they do not have land titles. Bakrie Group will not have to pay for the destruction of infrastructure. The state will have to pay for this. Methane is leaking from various places and fires erupt frequently. People are scared. The threatened villages, however, have not been resettled because, according to Bakrie, it is not clear who or what caused the disaster. During natural disasters, emergency help must be granted at the most. And Indonesia has many natural disasters: Forest fires, landslides, floods, drought. During 2006, when the mud volcano erupted, environmental and human rights organisations counted 840 environmental disasters leading to 7,303 deaths, 1,140 people disappearing, three million refugees or ‘displaced persons’, and around 750,000 destroyed houses. In the light of such figures, the ‘world’s fifth biggest natural catastrophe’, according to the Time Magazine, is just one case amongst many.

Yet the mud volcano is a special case. By its nature it is exceptional, unique, long-lasting. More and more voices are heard which describe the Lapindo mud volcano as a test case for public and company responsibility. What value is put on human lives in Indonesia if a company can destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people, break laws and violate human rights, ask more than only the victims. In February 2009, the national Human Rights Commission finally published its report. This states that Bakrie has violated 14 human rights articles. Now it remains to be seen what position Bakrie will take. If it continues to evade its responsibilities, the public mood could change.

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1 Comment

  1. rani says:

    how to lapindo can happen?

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