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After eruption, ‘the
trees are all dying’

Killing time: Children play soccer at Yogyakarta’s Maguwoharjo Stadium which has been used to accommodate thousands of people displaced by the deadly eruptions of Mount Merapi (background). Although with less intensity, Mount Merapi continued spewing hot ash on Wednesday. JP/Slamet Susanto

 Thick volcanic ash spewed by Mount Merapi has killed trees and created a virtual dead zone inside  20-kilometer danger zone surrounding the volcano.

In Ngepos in Magelang, Central Java, volcanic ash continued to cover fallen trees along the village’s roads.

Ash has also weakened the branches of thousands of coconut and salak pondoh (snake fruit) trees in the region, causing their fruits to decompose.

More than 1,400 hectares of snake fruit plantations have been destroyed, according to reports.

“Snake fruit trees have been the main source of income for 95 percent of the locals here. Now the trees are all dying. We have to start all over again,” said Ngepos resident Wijiyanto, who owned more than 3,000 snake fruit trees.

Wijiyanto said he would need at least three years before he could harvest fruit from new trees.
Srumbung resident Agus Dwiyanto lost his 1-hectare plantation that contained more than  6,000 snake fruit trees.

People in other snake fruit production centers such as Turi and Pakem districts in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, reported similar experiences.

“There is nothing that we can do. This is a disaster,” said Turi resident Wiyanto, 54.

He said he had lost his 7,000 square-meter plantation along with more than 2,000 snake fruit trees.

Other plants damaged by volcanic ash include vegetables such as chilies and tomatoes, which has led to soaring prices in downtown Yogyakarta’s traditional markets.

“My organic vegetable plantations have all been killed by ash,” Sleman resident Supri said.

He is currently taking shelter at the Maguwoharjo Stadium evacuation center in Sleman.

Many farmers were concerned about feeding their families once the situation returned to normal and even more were concerned about making a living.

They called on the government to provide seedlings so they could recover from the disaster as soon as possible.

“The only thing I can do is quarry sand to make a living while waiting to harvest  snake fruit trees, three years after they are planted,” Wijiyanto said.

He  added that he could earn Rp 50,000 (US$5.65) a day quarrying sand from Mt. Merapi’s slopes.

Residents also said they hoped  that the government would rehabilitate damaged infrastructure.

“Farmers will need at least two years to recover. We hope the government will accelerate aid in the post-emergency period,” Indonesian Farmers Association (HKTI) chairman Subardi said.

Sleman Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry Agency head Riyadi Martoyo said that the regency’s snake fruit tree owners stood to lose more than Rp 200 billion due to the eruption.

 Regency farmers stood to lose Rp 3 billion from damage to 170 hectares of horticulture and vegetable plantations, he added.

Mt. Merapi, which straddles the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java, again began spewing hot clouds and lava on Wednesday morning.

Ash rained down on Magelang region, after Mt. Merapi recorded two days of decreasing intensity in its volcanic activities.

“Volcanic activity is still high so the  top alert status is still effective,” Yogyakarta Volcanic Technology Development and Research Center (BPPTK) Merapi section head Sri Maryati said on Wednesday.

The center estimated that since its most recent series of eruptions began on Oct. 26, the volcano has ejected more than 140 million cubic meters of material.

The volcanic detritus has clogged rivers whose upper streams originate on Mt. Merapi, creating potentially lethal “cold lava” flows up to 15 kilometers downstream.

The rivers that originate on Mt. Merapi include Gendol River running to Cangkringan in Sleman
and Woro River that runs to Klaten, as well as the Kuning, Boyong, Bedog, Bebeng, Krasak, Sat, Putih, Lamat, Senowo, Trising and Apu Rivers.

“[Cold lava flows] have become a serious threat along those rivers,” Sri said.

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