An estimated half a million people are living in temporary shelters around Indonesia. They are victims of flooding, earthquakes or landslides which have destroyed their homes and livelihood.
Victims of such a catastrophe are the people of Sijeruk village near Banjarnegara in Central Java.
On the 4th of January 2006 their homes were hit by a severe landslide.
The devastating force of mud and boulder has almost entirely buried the village, ripping many of them from home and family.
Peter Koppen and Sutami visited the place to see how the survivors get along today.
Recess at the elementary school in Sijeruk.
The newly constructed building opens its doors. Hundreds of children rush out.
Students start playing ball, some chat while others sit in the shade of a tree.
From the playground they can see their new homes, neat row houses built from stone and concrete with sturdy wooden roofs. Good quality, says Basirun who is the head of the village, and resistant to outer influences.
Good for those who have lost everything during the landslide.
“We are relocating all the Sijeruk villagers to a new place. That’s around 170 families who will move. I think the facilities in the new place are very good. We are just putting the finishing touches to the houses.”
The settlement is part of a project funded by the regional and national government in the aftermath of the disastrous landslide in January 2006.
It destroyed the older part of Sijeruk, burying almost every house and the school under tons of sludge and boulder.
Hartono, a 35 year old lady, remembers that day as if it were yesterday.
“…I heard a loud noise from the hill. It sounded like a truck fell from the hill and hit the rocks. Big winds came, followed by a huge landslide. The whole village was buried.”
Hartono was as lucky as Wartoyo who also survived the landslide, with only some bruises, broken rips and swollen angles.
“I was at the river when the landslide happened. When I heard loud voices and warning cries, I ran to my house. But I fell down near the river and was buried with mud up to my waist. I had to be hospitalised for 11 days.”
More than 120 people were killed by the mudslide, hundreds more were seriously injured.
35 year old Salmin survived, but she lost most of her relatives.
“I lost my sister and her family. I could only save my nephew. The rest were buried by the landslide and died. Their bodies have still not been found. When it happened, they were asleep…”
It’s quite obvious to see what cause the landslide here.
Heavy rainfall soaked the soil to the point where it couldn’t hold to the decline.
Illegal logging had already destabilized the area. There were no tree roots holding the soil in place.
And some villagers built their homes just too close to the slope, explains geologist Andang Bachtiar.
Thus it needed only little to trigger the landslide.
“Banjarnegara is not stable in term of geology. There are several folds in there, young sediment, volcanic cover and rugged terrain. It creates the perfect situation where you have potential of landslides there. Plus, the government is not applying the correct land use or planning in those area. People are allowed to build settlement there or infrastructure close to the danger, hazardous areas in terms of slopes. That’s one thing, the second is that there is not much socialisation in terms of campaigning about the dangers of living in that area.”
Andang is trying to make people more aware of what’s a stake.
If they keep on cutting down trees for cooking or build houses in landslide prone areas, they are risking their lives.
“…if you put man activity in there, it will trigger, it will make the disaster even more severe than when deforestation is not occurring. So it’s becoming the triggering, the severing factor.”
Parts of a roof, a detached wall, trees broken like matches – reminders of a place once inhabited by the Sijeruk villagers.
All you can hear now is the sound of birds and crickets – no children, no bustling market, no human sounds at all.
To wipe the disaster from people’s minds, trees and crops have been planted to cover the debris.
Meanwhile in the new settlement in Sijeruk, the children have to go back into their classrooms. Recess is over.
They don’t realise how fortunate they were that they escaped the disaster – and that they are alive.