JAKARTA, 1 May 2014 (IRIN) – Millions of Indonesians who live near the country’s more than 130 active volcanoes are constantly having to decide whether to evacuate or not. Supporting “volcano cultures” with up-to-date evidence and strong leaders is one way to save more lives, say experts.
“Communities balance the risks from the volcanoes with the benefits from living in such a fertile area,” Kate Crowley, the disaster risk reduction adviser for the Catholic Aid Agency for UK and Wales (CAFOD), told IRIN.
According to Crowley and other experts, while some culturally accepted warnings serve to protect communities across the archipelago nation, others – such as the belief that rituals appease the supernatural entities that control eruptions – can also create a false sense of security.
“Communities have their own early warning systems based on tradition and natural signs, and [it can be a struggle for them] to believe scientific monitoring,” said Anat Prag, a supporting officer for Caritas, a humanitarian NGO in Indonesia.
More than 76,000 people fled their homes and more than 200,000 were affected when Mount Kelud on Indonesia’s densely-populated Java island erupted in February, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). However, some residents insisted on staying behind.
Mount Merapi, between Yogyakarta and Central Java, is Indonesia’s most dangerous volcano, with eruptions every two to three years sending pyroclastic flows – 815 degrees Celsius sulphuric gases mixed with debris – downhill at up to 240km per hour.