The Jakarta Post
The Sinabung Emergency Response Task Force and the Indonesian Military (TNI) kicked off the construction of a road leading to the relocation center for Sinabung evacuees in the Siosar forest in Portibi Lama village, Merek district, Karo regency, North Sumatra, on Friday.
The initial stage of the relocation work took place just a couple of days after the first official visit of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo to the regency on Wednesday. On Thursday, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar signed the much-anticipated permit for the relocation site, which is located in the forest.
'We are now constructing the road access. After we finish the road, we will work on the areas dedicated to the evacuees' settlement and farms,' commander of Sinabung Emergency Response Task Force, Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
Based on Ministerial Letter No. 482/2014, the relocation area in the forest totals 458.88 hectares, which comprises 447.8 hectares of housing and farmland and 11.02 hectares for roads.
Asep said to accelerate the development of the relocation center, the task force had ordered heavy equipment from Medan city, which was now being used to build the road. He said his team had mapped the relocation area. According to their observation, the area was still densely wooded.
'The relocation area is in a forest, so no wonder there are still many trees. We have picked which trees will be cut down,' he said.
Acting Karo regent Terkelin Brahmana said the development of the relocation site in Siosar forest was made possible after Jokowi promised the acceleration of the permit issuance from the ministry during his visit.
'In front of us, President Joko Widodo made a call to the Environment and Forestry Minister, ordering her to expedite the permit to use the forest for the relocation. The permit was quickly released,' he said.
During the visit, Jokowi also instructed regional military command (Kodam) I Bukit Barisan to help build the road, with completion targeted for one month.
Data from the Karo administration showed there were 370 families, a total of 1,116 people, who would be relocated. They are from the three subdistricts of Bekerah, Suka Meriah and Simacem, all located in the hazard zone within a 3-kilometer radius of the volcano.
Suka Meriah village head Amin Ginting said all the residents in his village were enthusiastic to hear about the relocation work. He said they were happy with the selection of the relocation site, which is far from Mt. Sinabung.
Ginting said the residents had been waiting for too long for a permanent relocation site as their homes had been destroyed by pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash.
'We have begged to be relocated for a year, but we have only seen this request granted now. Although it feels like a long time, we are grateful that our wish has been finally realized,' he told the Post.
The volcano first erupted in September of last year, displacing more than 33,000 residents. To date, evacuees living in 12 shelters currently total 3,287 people, or 1,019 families.