Lumpur Sidoarjo (LUSI), the worlds fastest growing mud volcano, is a unique scientific, social and political event never before witnessed. Whilst most disasters command perhaps a few days, weeks or months under public scrutiny, LUSI, six years on, is still a contentious topic amongst leading world scientists and international and national media.
On May 29th 2006, just two days after one of Indonesia's most destructive earthquakes hit the city of Yogyakarta leaving 6,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless, another disaster struck and continues to wreak havoc to this very day.
This disaster was the Lumpur Sidoarjo mud volcano which suddenly erupted in a rice field near the township of Porong in the Sidoarjo Regency of East Java. The world would quickly come to know this new mud volcano as LUSI, a compendium of the Indonesian word for mud (lumpur) and the town near which LUSI was born (Sidoarjo).
LUSI was by no means your typical mud volcano and no one was to know that six years on this volcano would still be pouring forth up to 150,000 m3 of hot mud per day, eventually flooding an area of almost 800 hectares with a depth of mud ranging from 8-20m.
Some 40,000 people have so far been affected by this unprecedented disaster with 12 villages, 33 schools, 15 Islamic Centres, 65 Mosques, 30 factories, 4 village offices, Sugar Cane Plantations, Rice Fields and other plantations all buried under many meters of mud.
The loss to Government infrastructure has been significant, not the least of which is the main East-West Toll road that ran directly through the eruption zone. The road was permanently closed due to the mudflow on 21st November 2006. A new Toll road is under construction at significant expense to the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and requiring the relocation of many more families.
With the financial costs of this disaster totalling approximately 1 billion dollars (Government expenditure in excess of Rp 3.6 trillion and Bakrie Family expenditure in excess of Rp 5.7 trillion) it is now time for the international community to realise LUSI is unstoppable and commit to long term assistance for the people of Indonesia as is the norm with disasters in developing nations.
Since the eruption some 40,000 people have lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods, not to mention in some cases their lives. Whole villages have been inundated with mud, infrastructure destroyed and reputations left in ruins. No one knows at this point in time just how long this volcano will remain active. Some geological experts say it could continue to erupt and grow for another 40 -100 years and beyond.
It is rare for any disaster to receive as much attention, nor create as much controversy as LUSI. Due to the controversy over the triggering of this mud volcano, and at times tendentious media coverage, affected communities and Government have not received the much needed international assistance that is normally the case with disasters around the world, especially in developing nations.
One certainty with LUSI, the worlds largest mud volcano, is that it cannot be stopped by human intervention. To date, numerous strategies have been tried, and millions of dollars wasted, in unsuccessful attempts to put a halt to the course, and force, of nature.
LUSI represents an impending danger to all those residents who remain in the area. The constant subsidence of the volcanoes caldera presents a real possibilty that the entire system could eventually collapse hundreds of meters into the depths of the earth from which it came forth.
A catastrophe of this magnitude would most likely bring widespread death and destruction of thousands more homes, livelihoods and infrastructure in an already devestated region.
LUSI is a daily reality, and of paramount concern to the people of the region and all those involved in the management and containment of this world first mega mud volcano.