Text and photos by guest blogger Rayna Rusenko
On May 29, 2006, everything changed for the Indonesian district of Sidoarjo. It was here, just 30 minutes outside of Surabaya—on land populated by farmers, shrimpers, and small residential communities—that Indonesian oil and gas company PT Lapindo Brantas set up a gas exploration project looking for new, exploitable domestic resources.
What the company hit upon on this fateful day, however, was something else entirely. As Lapindo Brantas was drilling at its Banjar-Panji well, it triggered a massive mud volcano—one now known to the world as the Lapindo mudflow—the 21st century's greatest industrial disaster. Its outpouring of volcanic sludge swallowed 14 villages and displaced tens of thousands of people. It poisoned surrounding ecosystems and destroyed regional infrastructure. East Java's once thriving economy was all but ruined.
Since this tragedy began, the only thing greater than the Indonesian government's failure to support the victims has been Lapindo Brantas's relentless drive to downplay and evade responsibility. The fact that billionaire businessman and politician Aburizal Bakrie (then Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare) claims co-ownership of the company explains why an emboldened Lapindo has continued to get away with this crime while the Indonesian government stands by, complicit in its inaction.
One of only a few floating cranes, seen helplessly shoveling mud onto a 'wall' in an effort to prevent the flow from reaching neighboring areas
Despite recent global interest in issues of corporate accountability, environmental stewardship, and the rights of marginalized communities, international civil society has not yet turned its attention to the plight of Sidoarjo. As a result, Sidoarjo's dispossessed have been left on their own—without homes, jobs, possessions, or compensation.
More information on this disaster may be found at Portal Korban Lumpur, or conducting a search for «Sijoardo» at the Jakarta Post. In addition, Al Jazeera did an excellent in-depth documentary on the issue titled "People & Power: Muddy Justice:"
Well-known Indonesian educator and author Gus Maksum, displaced by the disaster along with his village of Jatirejo, has also been a vocal proponent for the need to recognize the social, cultural and environmental impact of the catastrophe.
In Titanic Made by Lapindo, his remarkable first-hand account of this unimaginable catastrophe, Maksum exposes the role of public officials, environmental scientists, members of the press, “disaster tourists," and Lapindo Brantas representatives as they all swarm to Sidoarjo in an attempt to capitalize on the spectacle of East Java's industrial mudflow. Recalling events that unfolded during the first year of the disaster, the author weaves tones of deep emotion, incredulity, and unabashed humor as he tells the story of a community struggling to preserve social and cultural ties—as well as dignity—in the face of sorrow, stress, uncertainty and loss.
Too few people know about the disaster and its survivors' quest for just compensation and support, so Maksum believes that the quickest path to bringing an end to the injustice committed against the people and ecology of Sidoarjo is to tell the world about its existence. Originally published in Indonesian in 2007, Titanic Made by Lapindo is now available in English for global audiences from the non-profit Jogjakarta-based publisher, Lafadl Initiatives.
Lafadl Initiatives' website includes an excerpt from the book, pictures, and updates. Lafadl Initiatives has also released a pamphlet for "Titanic Made by Lapindo" (part of its Sharing Voices, Sharing Lives book series) and an organizational brochure.
For those who want to learn even more about Sidoarjo, please contact Lafadl Initiatives at: kantor (at) lafadl.org. Titanic Made by Lapindo may be ordered as either a traditional print book or an iBook. To order a version for iPhone, visit this site.
Rayna Rusenko is a Tokyo-based translator and activist whose work focuses on poverty, migration, and civil rights issues. She may be contacted at email@example.com.