Indonesians struggle to turn mud into money

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Residents of villages buried beneath a sea of volcanic mud nearly a decade ago are making a living from tourists drawn to see the disaster zone. Paul Chapman reports.

Indonesians struggle to turn mud into money

Nearly a decade ago Sumono lived in a village and worked at a local drinks factory on Java Island in Indonesia.

His seemingly ordinary life vanished in 2006 when the whole area was buried beneath a flood of volcanic mud.

Now he’s one of the motorcycle guides making around $2 a trip ferrying curious tourists to view the scene of the disaster and the still-spewing volcano.


“If I said it’s not enough, it’s true, it’s not enough but we’re grateful for any work we can get.”

When the volcano began pouring mud, it was peaking at around 150, 000 cubic metres a day.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced.

The mud covers hundreds of hectares at the eastern end of the island.

Some of Sumono’s clients are domestic tourists, part of a growing number drawn to the scenes of such natural disasters.


“This is first time I’ve come to Lapindo mud. I watched a lot of the news on television but I didn’t expect that seeing it with my own eyes could give such a different impression as I imagine 13 villages underneath the mud and it’s still erupting. That means there’s a risk other villages could be buried too. If this is called tourism, I suppose it’s tragic tourism as we can see the threat.”

Indonesia’s government is helping to compensate those who lost their homes but even now officials say 10 per cent have yet to be paid.

Statues have sprung up at the scene of the disaster, which some blame on oil and gas drilling by a company linked to the powerful Bakrie family.

They deny any wrongdoing but among the statues, there’s an effigy of its patriarch near a stone tomb bearing the inscription: “Let this nation not forget.”

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