Mt. Sinabung Eruption: Mass Evacuation and Crop Damage

By Arnold Sianturi & Aris Cahyadi on 09:23 am Nov 15, 2013
Category Featured, News
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Mount Sinabung seen from Ndokum Siroga village in Karo, North Sumatra, on Nov. 11, 2013. (EPA Photo)

Medan/Jakarta. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in the Tanah Karo district of North Sumatra, following the eruption of Mount Sinabung on Thursday morning. It erupted again shortly before noon on the same day.

The first eruption on Thursday happened at 6:57 a.m., sending volcanic ash to a height of 7,000 meters.

The second eruption, at 11:54 a.m., saw smoke coming out of the mountain, reaching up to 5,000 meters.

“That makes the second eruption of Mount Sinabung for today,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in Jakarta on Thursday.

“The volcanic activity remains high, so there is still potential for further eruption. There have been no fatalities,” he said.

According to Sutopo up to 5,535 residents from eight different villages have moved out of their homes and occupied 11 different evacuation points.

“An emergency response period will be in effect until Saturday. Reports show that supplies remain sufficient and there are no fatalities,” Sutopo said.

He warned that the volcano remained highly volatile, having erupted sporadically over the past few weeks.

“We hope the public will follow our calls to avoid the area. Our observations still show that the mountain is still active,” he said.

Mount Sinabung’s activities in recent weeks have taken a serious hit on the region’s farming industry, with crops badly damaged by thick layers of volcanic ash.

“The total loses for local farmers in the area could be in the billions of rupiah,” said Makmur Sanjaya Sembiring, a farmer from Naman Teran subdistrict in Tanah Karo.

He said various produce, from lettuce and tomatoes, to chili peppers, cabbage, potatoes and oranges, were among those affected by the disaster.

“The area of damaged farms is estimated to reach up to tens of thousands of hectares. The majority of local residents here are farmers, and at the moment, the people have been badly affected by the volcano’s eruptions,” Makmur said.

According to data from the Tanah Karo Agriculture Office, up to 25,739 hectares of land belonging to farmers has been damaged in the eruptions.

Makmur said losses among chili farmers could amount to as high as Rp 21 billion ($1.82 million), while tomato farmers stood to lose up to Rp 18 billion this harvest season.

Cabbage farmers, meanwhile, are believed to have lost an estimated Rp 21.8 billion in produce, Makmur said.

Additionally, he explained that potato production from the area, which during a normal harvest could reach up to 30 tons per hectare, had declined by 50 percent, while chili production had declined by 30 percent.

“The condition of farmers in this area is very worrying. Aside from being forced to evacuate, their farms can no longer be used, and they had to use bank loans to develop their farming businesses in the first place,” Makmur said.