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Mount Kelud – Part I: East Java

Mount Kelud is like a close friend to those living on the slopes of the smoldering volcano. Part of the local community is determined to stay as long as the mountain’s natural resources provide them with the comforts of livelihood.

Meseman, 73, a villager of Gambar Anyar, Nglegok district, in Blitar, East Java, has been a resident of the Kelud slopes for many years, cultivating papaya plantations to make a living. When the fiery volcano was put on full-alert status, he chose to remain on the mountain with his family despite official evacuation attempts as Indra Harsaputra explains.

Meseman is convinced that the volcano will erupt some day, although it has not since the full-alert status was declared on Nov. 29.

“I’m not scared of the eruption because I’m been familiar with Mt. Kelud’s character. I could even die if I become a refugee. One of my acquaintances died when he slipped and fell in a camp bathroom,” he said.

Meseman’s ill-fated fellow farmer was persuaded to take refuge by the regional administration, which provided Rp 50,000 in compensation per villager and food aid to make the slope residents abandon their settlements for safety.

However, around 30 percent of Mt. Kelud’s slope population of 40,000 has remained unshaken by the alert. The local government’s attempts at forced evacuation by door-to-door visits to urge villagers onto trucks has failed.

The same social phenomenon was also seen when Central Java’s Mt. Merapi was declared critical status.

“We know what to do when Kelud is raging,” Meseman added.
Water scarcity

Living on volcanic slopes is not easy. In the dry season, the scarcity of clean water becomes a threat to locals, who become frequently embroiled in conflicts as they struggle for their ration of a limited potable water supply.

Sukir Suprapto, 47, head of the Kalikuning neighborhood association in Nglegok district, Blitar, now feels some relief. With the rains beginning to fall around the volcano, he can bathe twice daily and use public outhouses, unlike during the previous long drought, when the plantations had to serve as “latrines”.

“Water has been particularly scarce in the last two dry seasons. We had to share with other villages and the supply was only enough for cooking and drinking,” Sukir said.

The fresh water springs located 5 kilometers from his village — or 3 kilometers south of Mt. Kelud — had dried up for the first time villagers could recall.

“We don’t know why,” he said.

Spring water is normally channeled by 7-kilometer pipes to village settlements, where it is collected in reservoirs. During the previous drought, no water could be collected and the government delivered potable water for distributing at a ration of 50 liters per resident.

“The limited supply often leads to scuffles among neighbors. But in spite of all the seasonal water shortage and brawls, we choose to stay around this volcano because we’ve long been working here to meet the needs of our families,” said Sukir.

The majority of these mountain residents are plantation workers on government as well as private estates. The job has been handed down through the generations.

Today, the local population generally consists of those who have come from other regions to seek their livelihood on Mt. Kelud’s slopes.