Effusive magmatic eruptions, lahar flows, Vona rulings, and the human cost…
Rio Helmi looks at the challenges.

The biggest physical change that has happened since the last edition of this “News” is that we have had phreato-magmatic and magmatic eruptions from Mt Agung. Albeit effusive so far and not explosive, clouds of ash have risen up to 3500m into sky and have temporarily disrupted air traffic to Ngurah Rai airport. The crater is 2/3 full of lava but it’s cooling down for the time being. There are lahar flows coming down sporadically off the mountain.

Above: Magmatic eruptions of the effusive type. Below: Lahar flows.

On the human side of things, the ‘KRB’ 3 affected zones have had ash fall and have become largely uninhabitable. Sure, people make forays into these zones, but those forays have become largely perfunctory. In Sebudi, where the infamous quarries that are largely controlled by the powers that be continue to function in one capacity or another, trucks still operate but in a much diminished capacity. The atmosphere is bleak. When I was up past Sebudi on Saturday morning two electricians from the state run PLN were parked on the side of the road; behind them mountain, so close, seemed to stare down at us.

As we greeted each other, the sound of a scooter came down the steep slope from Lebih, engine protesting; the dusty, leaf strewn, concrete compounds bearing witness in a weird On the Beach way. (Go on, google it – here’s a clue: it’s a 1959 novel and a film). The portly woman, wrapped in all manner of clothes riding it, came into sight. We did the slightly frozen, polite nod, and she was soon gone. About ten minutes later we hear dogs howling and yapping from the lateral dirt track the PLN guys have parked on. Another scooter – this is getting to be a regular traffic jam. Clearly the dogs don’t want to be left behind, it’s heartbreaking to see their owners not able to take them to the evacuee camps.

Above: Coming down from Lebih. Below: An evacuee in Rendang

There are some 70,000 evacuees taking shelter in some 200+ camps – some as far away as Gianyar, others in Bangli and Buleleng, and of course some in Karangasem itself. In Buleleng, there are several camps outside of the well organized Tembok. The conditions vary: there are those from Pucang that have access to rice, noodles, and oil as they are in one of the depots. Another group from Pucang living in an abandoned house have to go up the road for their rice rations. I might add that those rations amount to one kilo of rice per person for four days. Then there are villagers from Bonyoh, from Pengalusan, and list goes on.

In Karangasem, in Pesaban, in the erstwhile restaurant Puri Boga, last week I found 710 evacuees from Besakih village crammed into a space that was perhaps designed to fit take 100, and around functioning 3 toilets. Up the road there are more camps, but until you hit the official government camps in Rendang none bigger. Then there are the radial roads east with camps as well. Over in Sideman there are several camps on the side of the road, including one where for the first time in two months I get a frosty welcome. It is one of the bigger and more popular camps.

Above: weaving baskets in an evacuee camp
Further down the road there is BNPB (national disaster mitigation center) camp being set up on a large soccer field. People here are a lot more welcoming. They helped me find my bike keys when I lost them – it took about an hour! But here I fret: the camp is only about 50m above Tukad Unda river which at this point is relatively close. Although it is about 100m away it could still be subject to lahar flows.

So now we come to a very possible scenario. There are numerous vulnerable bridges in the Karangasem and Klungkung regions. If Mt Agung erupts explosively (anywhere from 10km to 20km straight up, then down at huge velocity) these bridges will not withstand the battering from pyrochlastic flows, lahar flows, and so on. The government has been working a plan to deliver supplies by sea, and several drop off points are being considered.

What is also an important point to take into consideration is retraining and reeducation for a largely agricultural swathe of Bali’s population. Though there are women everywhere now working on basket weaving, clearly there has to be more diversification. Even building will be hard hit as the demand goes down. Time to put our thinking caps on.