Merapi disaster: when the government fails, the people must act

The Alliance of People’s Struggle (ARM), a coalition of women’s, students, labour and peasant organisations, based in Yogyakarta, is appealing for emergency aid to help people affected by the Mount Merapi volcano, which is having its most violent eruptions in more than a century. The eruption on the morning of November 5 killed 58 people, injured dozens more and completely incinerated the village of Argomulya.

A spokesperson from the ARM, Yayak Aslihul, said: “The situation in Yogyakarta is quickly becoming a humanitarian disaster. As well as the death toll of more than 100 people, more than 75,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. In addition to the trauma of being evacuated from their homes, the refugees are suffering from shortages of food, water and sanitary facilities, and the local government’s emergency funds are quickly running out.

“The humanitarian disaster caused by Merapi is a result of a failure by the national and local governments to take natural disaster management seriously. Authorities have long known that Merapi poses a serious threat to people living nearby, but the government has failed to prepare adequately for an eruption. There has been no clear evacuation plan, and steps have been taken only after each eruption, which is why more than 100 people have already died. Nor has the government provided adequate shelters, instead waiting until tens of thousands of people were in desperate need of accommodation. They are now forced to sleep in the Maguwoharip soccer stadium, which the government chose only after Merapi began erupting.”

And while the national and local governments are clearly failing to deal with the disaster, the national government is still refusing to accept foreign aid. So far the Australian government has offered $1 million, the US government US$2 million and the European Commission €1.5 million. A spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry claims that the government still needs to assess the situation and will accept the aid only “if the damage requires large-scale assistance and we cannot handle it on our own”, showing that it is more concerned about presenting a false image of self-sufficiency to reassure foreign investors than it is about looking after the people affected by the disaster.

The government has agreed to channel any international donations to other organisations such as Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organisation, Muhammadiya, and the Indonesian Red Cross, but endemic corruption means it is unlikely that the funds will reach people in need. Governmental corruption and incompetence extend from the national to the local level — in Boyolali district, where 20,000 people have been evacuated and are living in temporary shelters, two senior officials have gone to Bali to “study electronic voting systems”.

The member organisations of the ARM are centrally involved in numerous struggles and campaigns in the Yogyakarta region. One, the ARMP (Alliance of People’s Struggles-Parangtritis) has been campaigning since 2007 to stop the forced eviction of thousands of people from their homes in the nearby beach town of Parangtritis to make way for a huge new tourism resort. Another organisation, the Security Guards Union-United Struggle of Labour Indonesia (SPK-PPBI) has been campaigning to reinstate more than 40 security guards who were dismissed from their positions at Sapphir Square Mall. Many members of SPK-PPBI are currently helping to establish refugee camps for some of the thousands of people fleeing from the village of Cangkrinan, and two members of the SPK-PPBI had had their homes destroyed by the Merapi eruptions.

Yayak, who is also a member of the Political Committee of the Poor-People’s Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD), said: “While it is the government’s responsibility to look after the victims of Merapi, it is clearly failing to do its job, so the people must act. The ARM has two main goals. The first is to help distribute essential items to priority groups including children, pregnant women and the elderly. The second is to establish a monitoring and advocacy centre to ensure that government aid is reaching those in need as well as helping people to receive adequate compensation for reconstructing their homes and buying new livestock for their farms. The ARM is also campaigning for the government to provide free education and health care for the victims of Merapi. The ARM will also be organising demonstrations to demand that the government fulfil its responsibility to the victims now and into the future”.

Please send messages of solidarity to: Tel: Yayak Aslihul +62-817460268, Zoe Kenny +62-85743214559. Email: aliansi.rakyat.menggugat@gmail.com.

Financial donations can be made to: Mandiri Bank Rekening. 144-000-5472-979 Aslihul.

Material donations of essential items, including milk, nappies and sanitary supplies, can be sent to: Sekretariat Posko ARM: Asrama IKPM-Sumsel, JL. Bausasran, DN. 3 No. 595, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.