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Indonesia mudflow victims hope new president can press for compensation

Eight years on, thousands of people affected by the Lapindo mudflow in Indonesia’s East Java province have yet to receive any compensation. The victims are calling on the new president to urge the company responsible for the incident to pay up what they owe.

SURABAYA: Eight years on, thousands of people affected by the Lapindo mudflow in Indonesia’s East Java province have yet to receive any compensation.

The victims are calling on the new president to urge PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya, a company partly owned by the family of the Golkar Party chairman Abu Rizal Bakrie, to pay up what they owe to those displaced by the mud volcano.

Imam Khoiri lost his home and livelihood as a cleaner at a rattan company when the mud volcano erupted and engulfed his village.

To make ends meet he became a motorbike taxi driver at an unofficial commemorative site for the mud volcano in Sidoarjo.

He is looking forward to the upcoming elections and is hanging his hopes on presidential candidate Joko Widodo.

Last May, Widodo went to the site to see how the Sidoarjo mud volcano drastically changed the lives of thousands of people in the local community.

During his visit, he promised the victims that if he were elected as president he would give them financial compensation, relocate them to a safer area and offer them access to better health and education."

Widodo signed a political contract, which also pledges to give job security to those affected.

Imam said: "What I see from Mr Jokowi is that he is a simple man. I saw with my own eyes and not what others claim him to be. I hope that he would know what needs to be done to help small people like us."

The mud volcano occurred after a blowout at one of Lapindo's natural gas wells, which destroyed hundreds of homes and submerged 720 hectares of land.

The company only agreed to compensate victims within the boundaries of the affected area, while those living outside the set boundaries were paid with the state budget.

A recent ruling by the constitutional court ordered the government to force the company to complete the payment of compensation to the mudflow victims.

Despite President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono demanding the company pay up, Lapindo has yet to distribute more than US$82 million of compensation.

Gugun Muhammad, community organiser at Urban Poor Consortium, said: "In the short term, what needs to be done is have the state provide a bailout for the victims so those who lost their home or land can purchase them again. Afterwards, the state can make Lapindo return the compensation money and make good on their promise."

Gugun warned the new government must carry out underground surveys in efforts to stop the mudflow and prevent it from spreading.

So far, it has contaminated ground water, rivers and fish ponds within a radius of five kilometres from the mud containment pool banks.

Imam said: "Our hope is that the new government thinks of the poor like me. Who can we ask for help if not the government? Think of small people like us and how we can get proper jobs. Don't just think about politics. That's my wish."

Imam and many others await the upcoming elections with high hopes and anxiety, as the results of the elections could determine if their fate will soon change for the better or remain in limbo for years to come.  

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