JAKARTA, INDONESIAN – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday visited a disaster zone caused by a massive mud volcano blamed on gas drilling and said it could be turned into a tourist attraction.
The mud has been devouring land and homes in East Java’s Sidoarjo district since May 2006, endangering as many as 100,000 people and causing US$4.9 billion (S$6.86 billion) worth of damage, an Australian expert estimates. It has buried 12 villages, killed 13 people, displaced more than 42,000 and wiped out 800 hectares (1,977 acres) of densely populated farming and industrial land.
In a rare visit to the area, Mr Yudhoyono acknowledged community anger over delayed compensation payments but promised that the disaster would be turned into an opportunity.
‘With good layout and good concepts, we can turn this place into something useful for the community, whether as a geological tourist attraction, fishery or for other public activities,’ he said. ‘If it’s managed well, I have confidence this will be an attractive place and bring good to the local community. We need to think of a long-term solution and development of the district for the interests of the larger community.’
He did not explain whether the proposed geological tourism attraction would perpetuate the official line that the volcano was triggered by a small earthquake at Yogyakarta, 280 kilometres (174 miles) away.
Independent scientists earlier this year unveiled fresh evidence that gas drillers were to blame for the ongoing mudflow which continues to ruin lives. In a paper published by the journal Marine and Petroleum Geology in February, a group led by experts from Britain’s Durham University said a nearby gas drilling operation was almost certainly responsible. The company being fingered for the disaster, Lapindo Brantas, replied in the same journal that the earthquake unleashed the volcano as its gas drillers probed for gas nearby.