Disaster tourism a lifeline for mud volcano victims

SILENT REMINDER: Statues standing semi-submerged in mud, a symbol of the human cost of the ongoing disaster which began 10 years ago in Sidoarjo, east Java.


    May 18, 2016

    Disaster tourism a lifeline for mud volcano victims


    HARWATI forces a smile as she guides visitors around a bubbling mud volcano in Indonesia, pausing as they snap selfies on the wasteland she once called home.

    These disaster tourists are a lifeline for the single mother who lost everything when the earth beneath a paddyfield near her village opened up without warning 10 years ago.

    The mudflow buried villages, factories, shops and even a major highway in the Sidoarjo district of Java island.

    Today, Ms Harwati and many others scrape a meagre living from the visitors who flock to see rooftops and debris poking above the bubbling mud lake.

    "This is the only way to earn a living and afford school for my kids," said Ms Harwati.

    Visitors pose next to faceless statues lying semi-submerged in the mud, a silent reminder of the human toll of this disaster.

    As victims prepare to mark 10 years since the start of the disaster, the mud geysers show no signs of stopping.

    The equivalent of 10 Olympic swimming pools of mud and water still spurt out daily.

    Intrigue has surrounded the cause of the mudflow ever since it gushed out. There are two main theories on what triggered it - drilling for natural resources or an earthquake.

    The area was declared a disaster zone, with warning signs dotting the perimeter.

    Undeterred, visitors still come and an impromptu industry has sprung up. Busloads of tourists arrive on weekends and DVDs dramatising the disaster are hugely popular.

    Debate over what had caused the strange phenomenon has fuelled fascination and protracted the fight for compensation.