Indonesia: Killer Landslides Blamed on Rain, Logging

Jakarta Globe 28 Jan 13;

Torrential rains across Indonesia triggered a pair of fatal landslides in Sumatra and another one in Bogor on the weekend and prompted flood evacuations in parts of Kalimantan, reigniting debate over the causes for wet-season fatalities.

In the latest incident, seven people were killed and three injured in a landslide in Agam, West Sumatra, early on Sunday.

“Seven people were found dead and three others were injured ... and 18 were missing,” National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a text message, adding that 15 houses were buried by the landslide.

A day earlier, a landslide killed four workers at a drilling site belonging to state-controlled Pertamina Geothermal Energy in Kerinci, Jambi, the company said in a statement.

“The landslide killed four people, injured five people, and left one person missing. All victims were workers who were drilling,” the statement said.

In Bogor over the weekend, six people died in a landslide. The incident was triggered by torrential downpours, burying seven houses on a ravine in Cipayung, officials said.

“Some of the victims were found buried under ruins of buildings, and others were under the landslide,” said Budi Aksomo, an officer with the local BNPB office.

The identities of the victims in the three landslides had not been released as of late on Sunday.

Illegal logging blamed

The fatalities reveal the human cost of some of the problems that bedevil Indonesia’s development. Inadequate and poorly maintained infrastructure leaves city-dwellers vulnerable to floods, while failure to police rampant illegal logging leaves some rural communities exposed.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) on Sunday blamed the severity of recent landslides following flooding on illegal logging, which allowed the topsoil in the hilly areas to easily wash away with the rain.

T.M. Zulfikar, director of the Aceh unit of Walhi, said that if illegal logging is allowed to continue, “don’t be surprised to see even worse disasters unfold in the future.”

“The government must reforest the areas that are in critical condition, especially in upstream areas,” he added.

The heavy downpours have prompted havoc in parts of Kalimantan.

In Central Kalimantan’s North Barito district, floodwaters from the rain-swollen Barito River inundated more than 12,000 homes and 60 schools over the weekend.

Rising water levels, which reached as high as two meters, forced 1,300 families to flee their homes and seek refuge at government shelters or with relatives. But many others chose to stay put for fear that their homes will be looted if they leave.

In East Kalimantan, the government of Balikpapan on Sunday warned residents to prepare for extreme weather, including torrential rains and strong winds, over the next two months.

Balikpapan city spokesman Sudirman Djayaleksana said that while the administration had been preparing for the worst, people should also be alert to avoid casualties.

“We call on people to stay home, and avoid dangerous places such as rivers, hills and forests. Those who live in such areas should always be on alert to be evacuated,” he said.

Sudirman said that the administration had coordinated with police and the military so that they could quickly deploy their officers in case of emergency.

“We have identified 20 areas most prone to landslide. We hope there will be no more casualties,” he said.

Poor sewage

Experts say that many cities across the country lacked effective sewage systems, a problem that meant they were particularly vulnerable to high water levels during the rainy season.

Trisakti University urban planning expert Yayat Supriyatna said on Sunday that cities need to gradually overhaul their sewage systems to cope with the growing population and burgeoning economy. This would involve increasing the size of catchment areas converted into housing areas.

The growing debate over preparations for the wet season follow a spate of fatalities linked to the inundation.

Heavy rains in Jakarta this month has resulted in 32 deaths and, at their peak, forced nearly 46,000 people to flee their inundated homes. The floods also exposed problems in the city’s transportation system, with several key roads under water and the TransJakarta bus network unable to operate for most of a day.

In West Sumatra last month, a 61-year-old woman an her two granddaughters were killed when a landslide buried a house in South Solok, several hours after heavy rain hit the area.

On the same day, heavy rain also triggered a landslide and floods in the West Sumatra districts of Pasaman, Agam and Tanah Datar.

Aceh has also been hit by flooding and landslides that have killed several people in the past year.

In March 2012, a flash flood in the Sumatran province’s Tangse district killed 11 people. The flood-prone area sits within a river basin.

Seismic threat

In West Java last month, two miners were killed when landslide swept away a village along the bank of Cipanengah River in Cisolok, an area near Mount Buleud, an active volcano.

The Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center said at the time that the area had medium to high levels of seismic activity, making it prone to earthquakes that loosened the soil, amplifying the impact of landslides.

In Balikpapan last May, a woman and three children died and three others were injured after a landslide brought down a hillside home.

The massive floods that triggered the landslide had paralyzed the city, leaving many roads in the city inundated after more than seven hours of heavy rain.

Flights from the city’s Sepinggan Airport were also disrupted.