Merapi Homeless to move Islands

(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Indonesians who fled their homes to escape an erupting volcano have been offered the chance to start anew on a less populated island, authorities said on Tuesday.

Around 60,000 people are living in temporary shelter on densely populated Java island after Mount Merapi Volcano erupted last month and forced nearly half a million people to flee their homes while destroying crops, buildings, roads and bridges.

Indonesia is perched on the Pacific “ring of fire” and frequently prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and floods.

Authorities said on Tuesday they had ordered closed until end of this week a domestic airport in eastern Java after eruptions from Mount Bromo, one of dozens of other active volcanoes on the 17,000-plus island archipelago.

“We expect there will be more eruptions,” Gede Suantika, leader of a Indonesia vulcanology agency team, said of the 2,329 meters (7,641 ft) Bromo, adding it was spewing ash but not lava.

The government has offered to move tens thousands of people displaced by Mount Merapi to Kalimantan on Borneo island, about 600 kms (375 miles) north of Java.

Inducements include transport, two hectares of land and living costs for six months, said an official of the manpower and transmigration office.

Under a controversial scheme known as “transmigration” started by Indonesia’s former Dutch colonial masters and continued during the rule of President Sukarno after World War Two, the government tried to move hundreds of thousands of people from populous islands such as Java to lesser populated parts of the country.

Critics said the scheme trampled on the rights of indigenous populations and was responsible for massive destruction of pristine natural forests.

The government offer didn’t appear that attractive to some.

“I still have a piece of land which has not been touched by hot clouds or lahar floods, and my kids are still in school,” said Heri Suprapto, a father of four children, who lost his house in the volcanic eruptions.

Instead he chose another plan by the government, the offer of building a temporary shelter made of bamboo close to his former home, 14 kms (9 miles) from the volcano’s crater.

(Reporting by Telly Nathalia and Olivia Rondonuwu, editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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