Those of us living in the energy field of Gunung Agung have been holding our collective breath for weeks now. The first month of dealing with the reality of a grumbling volcano on the doorstep generated much anxiety and busy preparation.

But you can’t hold your breath for weeks at a time. The  status of the volcano was downgraded from 4 to 3 and we’ve all been exhaling ever since. Living under a restless volcano has become the New Normal.
But don’t dismiss Gunung Agung yet.

Rio Helmi is an Ubud-based journalist and photographer who’s been visiting the area almost daily by motorbike and is in constant dialogue with the scientists monitoring the volcano from nearby Rendang.

From his blog on Ubud Now and Then, “Mt Agung is a closed system volcano which has never been recorded by instrumentation during an active phase. So scientists are now literally recording Mt Agung’s in-depth volcanological history for the first time. The day-by-day changes that a huge 3142 meter high, geologically  stratified mass can undergo is fascinating. There are 39 million cubic meters of active magma inside the mountain’s belly, now just four kilometers from the crater’s surface. It doubled to this amount in just two days between November 9 and 11, signaled by a powerful, Richter scale 5+ local tectonic quake that woke up many of the island’s population at 5:56am.

“Before that, we lay people were lulled by the drastic drop in seismic activity and the alert level being brought down to 3 from 4. After 1,000 tremors a day, 100 – 200 tremors can seem insignificant. The volcanologists up in Rendang, however, have been watching ever more intently, and have been joined by several members of the United States Geological Services (USGS).

“So here’s one of the most powerful volcanoes in the world, an inscrutable closed system, and there are no scientific records of previous eruptions. The ramp-up was fast, a matter of days. There are around 35,000 people living in zones that would be directly and dangerously affected. No disaster or evacuation training or volcanic phenomena knowledge has been transferred to them. The area is difficult to evacuate in a hurry; most of the routes are treacherous.”

It’s pretty quiet down here in mainstream Bali. There are fewer tourists around; shops and restaurants are half empty but for most, life goes on as usual. For daily volcano updates we rely on Jackie Pomeroy’s comprehensive posts on Facebook page Community Ubud. It’s easy to lose sight of the continuing situation in Bali’s north east, where thousands of displaced families are living in limbo, still holding their collective breath.

An estimated about 50,000 evacuees are living in 282 official, poorly resourced camps and and unknown number in informal camps or staying with relatives or in banjars in safe zones. The numbers are constantly changing and hard to pin down. “After the alert level dropped, people in the official camps were told to go home and no longer received food supplies,” Rio reports. With no income, little or no food and without the education to interface with bureaucracy to obtain food and subsidies, many families have returned to their homes within the danger zones.

“One very positive thing is that disaster mitigation expert Eko Teguh Paripurno has dropped his teams of volcano volunteers into several of the villages in Bali closest to the volcano,” he adds. “These are villagers from Java who have received and successfully implemented proper programs for evacuation and are trained to pass on their knowledge. They stay in the villages for several days, not only training but also getting the villagers to design their own evacuation program, and assessing it at the end of the day.”

Two of the volunteer organisations supporting evacuees on the ground are based in Ubud. Mount Agung Relief (MAR) is a joint community effort coordinated by Kopernik, IDEP, Bumi Sehat, Rio Helmi, Rucina Ballinger, Bali ZEN and Green School parents to respond to the urgent and evolving needs of people who have been displaced due to Mount Agung’s increased volcanic activity. It is currently focusing on four initiatives: water filters, toilet and hand-washing stations, N95 respiratory masks and education kits on disaster preparedness.

As of November 8, the relief effort had raised US$89,387. These funds have been used to deliver 36 truckloads to 20 evacuation points in Bangli, Tabanan, Karangasem and Buleleng regencies. Mount Agung Relief has distributed 471 Nazava water filters and 19,870 face masks, and trained 718 community leaders on disaster preparedness. The relief effort has also built 26 toilets and two bathrooms.

Another initiative is Agung Siaga (AS), a group of Indonesian volunteers who provide food, information and other practical support. Agung Siaga works in cooperation with MAR, delivering food and other supplies to evacuees by truck and car. Agung Siaga responds to needs identified through MAR, from making its own field observations, or hearing about neglected camps through informal field reports.

Food is the most pressing issue; people in the camps are going hungry. Agung Siaga purchases fresh vegetables from local farmers who are feeling the pinch of reduced tourism.

Some evacuees are in big tents with toilets but many have been camping in makeshift shelters and are dependent on the tolerance of banjars or relatives. The rapid influx of people into areas which already lack abundant clean water, sewage and waste management will inevitably have an impact on local environments and health. The camps are in areas that are already poor and have little to share. So Agung Siaga is distributing hygiene kits as well as food.

Agung Siaga is an entirely volunteer organisation and space for their Logistics and Information Hub is generously sponsored by Kahiyang Coffee Arjuna in Ubud. So every rupiah donated goes to directly support people affected by the ongoing activity of Mount Agung. In terms of transparency, AS will not disclose the names of donors but will open its books to donors so they can see where money goes.

Likes on Facebook don’t feed people. Donations feed people. What keeps the tired, over-extended volunteers going? The support of the donors, who range from local farmers to Balinese students to foreigners. I’ve heard many stories of ordinary Balinese buying sacks of rice, packing up extra clothes and driving out to deliver them to evacuees. Animal welfare organisations and individuals are feeding abandoned dogs in the danger zones.

But money is the most useful donation; it enables rapid and appropriate response. Agung Siaga also welcomes volunteers, particularly Indonesian/Balinese, to help with their logistics and public information programmes.

It’s easy to make a donation by Paypal or bank transfer. The information is on Facebook Agung Siaga Community and Mount Agung Relief.

PAYPAL Address:

Bank Account Number

Bank : BCA Ubud Bali

Account : 1350435111

Name: Muhammad Chaerulsyah Gunawan

Swift Code: CENAIDJA


Please help support the evacuees. Because this is far from over. It’s just the beginning of the beginning.



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