It hasn’t happened again yet. In 1963, however, the last time Mount Agung (Gunung Agung) erupted, approximately 1,500 people were killed and numerous villages destroyed.
Back then, after about a month of rumbling and smoking and then an eruption that traveled 7 km over 20 days, the biggest eruption happened. The March 17, 1963 eruption sent debris 8 to10 km into the air and caused massive pyroclastic flows (a fluid mass of turbulent gas and rock fragments), which “can travel at up to 290 mph (466 Km/h), “so no – you can’t outrun something like this,” says Kim Patra in “Paradise . . . in sickness & in health, (Bali Advertiser, Oct. 2017, p. 31). Resulting “lahars” – massive mud flows killed about 200 more people. The 1963-1964 eruptions and flows lasted almost a year.
Now – since September 19, 2017, Mt. Agung has been rumbling and registering 4 for most of that time – meaning immediate eruption. An estimated 125,000 people in a radius of 12 miles (20 km) from the base of the volcano have been evacuated.
The area experienced 844 volcanic earthquakes on September 25, and 300 to 400 earthquakes by midday on September 26. Seismologists have been alarmed at the force and frequency of the incidents as it has taken much less for similar volcanoes to erupt.
In late October 2017, the activity of the volcano decreased significantly, leading to lowering of the highest status of emergency.”
But Mt. Agung is very unpredictable.
Rio Helmi, photographer and humanitarian who has been covering the evacuation, reports, “Mt Agung is what’s called a “closed system”; it doesn’t display its activity very clearly on the outside and is unpredictable. This last is further complicated by the fact that this is the first time it has gone active since it has been observed with instrumentation. Consequently the PVMBG [Pusat Vulkanologi dan Mitigasi Bencana Beologi; English: Centre of Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation] are being cautious about making any ‘predictions.’” Mt. St. Helen was a “closed system” that too was unpredictable. When it erupted, it blew out the side of the mountain.
Another reason the volcanologists are being cautious, says Helmi, is that Mt Agung has a very violent history. To put this into perspective, it is one of 58 volcanoes worldwide that has hit VEI 5 (Volcanic Explositivity Index). It is one of only 7 volcanoes worldwide that has hit VEI 5 consecutively, and fairly consistently, over the centuries. In the past, over the centuries, it has done a huge amount of damage.”
With a population of 4,225,000 and a land mass of 5,780 km, Bali is one of the main Indonesian islands, the best known for tourism. (In contrast, the Big Island of Hawaii has a land mass of 10,432 km and a population of 187,000 people). The eruption of Mt. Agung, the highest point on Bali, will have a huge impact on the many people who live in the East close to the volcano.
Today, like many other tourists, Barry and I are in Ubud and so safe. Barry arrived in Ubud on September 21, right as the evacuation notices started for those who live near Mt. Agung. Because of international news coverage, friends contacted me at home to see if Barry was okay. He didn’t really know about the problem of the volcano. Even now in Ubud, we have a hard time finding out what is happening on Mt. Agung. In Ubud, we see posters of where to donate money or supplies like tarps to the evacuees, but this crisis doesn’t impact tourists – who can just leave. And it isn’t one event. Already Balinese have been out of their homes and away from their fields for over a month.
For those Balinese in the shadow of Mt. Agung, their lives are even more precarious than before.
Getting help to them will be an on-going challenge. The Indonesian government has set up evacuation camps, and people and groups have donated supplies.
But based on the local help that was already on-going for the Balinese subsistence farmers who now have even more challenges, I recommend sending support to two groups in particular that will know how best to help the Mt. Agung refugees:
- Pak Made (Kadek) Gunata, co-founder of the Bali Spirit group and Bali Regreen, https://www.facebook.com/BaliSpirit/ and
- Rotary Club Bali Ubud Sunset – FB contact <https://www.facebook.com/groups/129279773753349/> & http://rotarybaliubudsunset.org/
A Rotary News article, “Water Water Everywhere, not a Drop to Drink!” by Renee Heaton, tells about the Ubud Rotary Club’s on-going work:
“[M]any people live in areas forgotten by governments and politicians because they are too hard to access. No roads or infrastructure is built for them in any shape or form. Where are these places? They are the mountain areas which cover a vast area of Bali, and where tourist rarely go because for them there is “nothing to do there”!
“The east coast of Bali in the Amed area, in the regency of Karangasem, many many people live high up in the mountains! [in the current danger zone of Mt. Agung]. . . . The area is very dry as it is in the rain shadow of the great Gunung Agung, the Great Mountain. The people who live there have virtually no access to schools, health clinics, doctors, or water!! They live in small huts usually 2 huts to a family with no washing facilities, no toilets, and no running water and some do not have electricity. They depend on their water from springs, high up in the hills, or wells near the coastal roads. So how do they get it? By walking hours each way to get 1 bucket of water and carry it back on their heads, women’s work! But the water is only for drinking and cooking. They do try and catch it during the rainy season but if it comes off their roofs can you imagine what else is collected!! So what happens when we do not get enough clean water to drink? You get sick, children get diarrhea from infected water, kidney disease, and skin diseases. No water=no sanitation, no toilets, no hands washed, practically no bathing!
Why do they not move? No money and no education, plus it is where their ancestors were born and died. Most are subsistence farmers; it is too dry to grow rice, only corn will grow and then only one crop a year; sometimes they plant pumpkin or cassava, but for all their other needs they have to barter! They live on corn in one form or another, animals are are rarity, not often seen.
So what can we do??? (Bali Advertiser, Oct. 2017). Heaton continues her article by sharing what the Rotary Club of Bali has been doing with the Bali Water Project:
Funding from Rotary Club Bali Ubud Sunset, other Rotary clubs in Bali, Colorado, Kansas, India, and The Rotary foundation has focused on the Bali water project.
Heaton reports, “Between 2007 and 2009, 6 water projects were completed helping more than 3,000 people, some of the very poorest of families living far, far from roads or water. . . . Projects 7-15 followed. . . 2017 saw Rotary Club Bali Ubud Sunset complete a further project at Sombawong. . . . These projects have given so many people a much easier life; no more carry water for hours on end daily; given them pride in looking after the systems once hand over takes place; a sense of worth and of being NOT FORGOTTEN! If you can help, consider donating to Rotary Club Bali Ubud, which has a record of making great use of donations.
The other group I recommend that has been helping the Mt. Agung farmers even before Mt. Agung started threatening eruption is the Bali Spirit group/Bali Regreen:
A report from “Ubud News” by Wayan Jen tells about “Mt. Agung’s Farmers”:
“Pak Made (Kadek) Gunata, co-founder of the Bali Spirit group, is working to ensure that the farmers have livelihoods to return to [after the threat of eruption is over]. In 2011, he helped found Bali Regreen on the not so rich soil side of Mt. Agung, to grow bamboo that will create an income for very poor locals and help replenish the soil.
Since the start of the evacuations, Pak Made and the Bali Regreen team have worked tirelessly to move the animals from those villages off Mt. Agung. This is vital work. Many farmers have been persuaded by profiteers to sell their cows worth up to 15 million rupiah for two million (that’s $1,500 versus $200), because they don’t have any money for basic supplies that they need for the evacuation camps. But others have left their animals behind, or have no place to put them.
Pak Made’s team is fostering livestock on two hectares of land that’s been made available for use during the evacuation, but he says there are more than 800 cows, pigs and goats still in the danger area,”and I know there are more from other banjars [village groups] that need to be removed.’
While there seems to be enough land to keep the animals at the moment, they need funds for fodder and animal care. By sheltering these cows, they are saving the future livelihood of these villagers, giving them the capacity to rebuild their lives when the immediate disaster is past. PM Made Gunata [Bali Spirit] directly on Facebook re donations.”
As of Oct. 30th the danger was downgraded from 4 to 3, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Mt. Agung is stable.
The Ubud Rotary Club and Bali Regreen for Balinese farmers are two excellent ways your contribution will be put to its best use.
For first-hand updates on what is happening on Mt. Agung, see Indonesian humanitarian and photographer Rio Helmi’s “News from Under the Volcano” on www.ubudnowandthen.com
Ibu Kat, Bali author and columnist, writes, “For most people reading this [in Bali], the eruption will be inconvenient. For the tens of thousands of families whose only home and assets are on that mountain, it will be devastating.
If Gunung Agung does blow, and it seems likely, the government and NGOs will be finding ways to help them survive and move forward over the next year or so. We can all be part of this process” (from “Greenspeak” Bali Advertiser, Oct. 2017, p. 29).
Please help. Aloha and sampai jumpa, Renée
Banner image: <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41382990>.