Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mudflow victims face unhappy, uncertain Ramadhan

ID Nugroho, The Jakarta Post, Sidoarjo

For the thousands of Muslims made homeless by the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster there is little to celebrate this fasting month as they look forward to an uncertain future.

"We can't really fast properly this year because everything we own has been destroyed or damaged by the mudflow," a resident, Boiman told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Boiman lost his home three months ago after mud began gushing uncontrollably from gas exploration company PT Lapindo Brantas Inc.'s well near the town of Sidoarjo. He and wife Sumani had lived in a simple house in Kedungbendo village a kilometer away from the well.

"Our house wasn't big. We slept in a 16-square-meter room, but it was where we could build a family," he said.

The bakso (meatball soup) vendor used to peddle his cart around villages in the area while Sumani worked as a house maid at the Tanggul Angin Sejahtera housing complex, two kilometers from their house. Both areas are now inundated and the disaster has put the couple out of work.

"The incident occurred very quickly. Mud suddenly engulfed our village, including my bakso cart," Boiman said.

The couple then sheltered in the Jatirejo village hall in Sidoarjo for two months before moving into rented accommodation. Although they are angry about the mudflow disaster, Boiman says he was forced to accept the one-off Rp 3 million (US$333) compensation payment from Lapindo.

"The money was little compared to the business I had built," he said.

The Boiman family say they used to earn an average of Rp 800,000 a month -- Rp 450,000 from selling bakso and Rp 350,000 from Sumani's salary as a house maid.

When paying the compensation, Lapindo staff often asked residents to sign a statement promising not to sue the company.

Despite being fingered for "gross negligence" leading to the disaster a police investigation into the company seems to have stalled.

The mudflow, meanwhile, has made more than 3,000 families homeless, and put thousands more out of work. They include Tohajir and his wife, Sujiati, who had to stop selling vegetables at the Porong market in Sidoarjo.

"We had no other place to keep our vegetables because our house had been buried by the mud," Sujiati told the Post.

Like Boiman, Tohajir also received Rp 3 million compensation from Lapindo. "We had no other choice," said Sujiati, the mother of Siska, 13, and Galang, 2.

Both families now live in a 21-square-meter house at the Sidoarjo state housing complex, 2 kilometers from the disaster site. They pay Rp 1 million for the annual rent.

"We had to chip in together to rent the house, while organizing our lives again," Boiman said.

In their rooms, Boiman and Tohajir store their remaining belongings, including television sets, carpets and mattresses, and a few clothes.

When breaking the fast on Sunday, tofu, tempeh bean cake and dried fish were on their spartan menu apart from rice.

To fill the time, Boiman and Tohajir make bricks from the mud -- a job for the villagers dreamt up by Lapindo management. However, despite making 15,000 bricks, Boiman says he has not been paid.

"They said they would pay me Rp 125,000 for each 1,000 bricks I made, but I have not received any money yet," he said.

Little money meant plans to go to their hometowns for Idul Fitri have been abandoned.

"I usually return to Malang for Idul Fitri, while Tohajir goes to Mojokerto. But we won't be going back to our hometowns this year," Boiman said.


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