More emergency shelters, aid for students and farmers

KARO (North Sumatra) – To cope with the rising number of evacuees, Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) will add 38 more shelters to relieve congestion at the 42 evacuation centres.

Its chief, Mr Syamsul Maarif, tasked with leading the Mount Sinabung disaster management team, has instructed provincial and district officials to audit the shelters and speed up provision of proper sanitation, clean water, health services and food there. 

The appointment of Mr Syamsul, credited with getting on top of last year’s regional haze, to lead the efforts to stem the growing humanitarian crisis as a result of the volcanic eruptions, is part of a raft of measures President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rolled out after his visit to Karo last week.  

The education ministry will give scholarships to the affected students from primary school to university level of between 450,000 rupiah and 2.5 million rupiah (S$45 and S$250) each, depending on the level of education.

School-going children will be given textbooks and uniforms, and undergo trauma counselling, said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. Tents will be pitched for lessons to be conducted in. In all, the education ministry is spending an estimated 4.6 billion rupiah on this assistance. 

Nearly 6,000 school-going children are living in the shelters, said Ms Saberina Mars, the commander in charge of managing the disaster shelters. Teachers also living at the shelters are conducting ad hoc classes for these children. 

In at least 13 shelters, a cash for work scheme has begun for 2,000 families, with each family paid 50,000 rupiah daily. 

Some observers worry that Karo’s economy, which is heavily dependent on agriculture, will collapse. 

To address this, the agriculture ministry has set aside 508ha of land where farmers will be given seedlings to plant chilli, tomatoes, potatoes and corn, and another 65ha of land for planting coffee. It has sent special machinery to aid the Karo regency, such as 20 water pumps and 20 hand tractors. 

Local district chiefs and the provincial governor are discussing with their neighbouring counterparts the possibility of opening up more land to relocate the affected farmers.

In the meantime, plantation owner Suruhen Tarigan plans to lease 11ha of land to seven families in his village affected by the eruptions. He lost 2.5ha of crop land but said he was working with an investor to open up plots in adjacent districts.

“It is one way of helping the affected farmers move forward, giving them the dignity of earning money with the only way they know how – farming,” he told The Straits Times. 

But Mr Munarta Ginting, the head of production in Karo’s agriculture department, said farmers will eventually have to make hard decisions – relocate and accept that living around the volcano is no longer possible, or find new means of making a living as large swathes of land are rendered infertile by deep ash contamination.


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