The impact on health
Mbah Tiyami, 75 years old, has been sick for more than a year. She doesn't know how she became sick but remembers exactly when it began.
“It was just after evening prayer. I was in the bathroom and suddenly I couldn't feel my feet... I collapsed and was taken to hospital”
Mbah spent nine days in the hospital at a cost of nine million rupiahs ($920) which she had to pay herself. An ultrasound scan showed that she had problems with her bladder and kidneys. While her ailments cannot be directly attributed to the mud eruption she certainly believes there is a connection.
Thousands of people living close to the source of the mud have suffered from deteriorating health. According to research commissioned by the governor of East Java Province in April 2008, the polluted air surrounding the embankments has caused various health issues. The most common symptoms being nausea, dizziness and respiratory infections.
In one of the district hospitals the number of patients with respiratory infections has increased from 25,000 in 2006 to double that amount in 2007.
Mbah eventually resorted to expensive herbal treatments to alleviate her suffering. She is still in pain but is now able to move her arms and get up from her bed.
Throughout her ordeal she and others haven't received any assistance from Lapindo Brantas nor the government. Mbah was counting on some compensation for the loss of her rice paddy to mud in order to pay her medical bills . That money never materialized. Now she must resort to borrowing money from relatives.
the loss of clean water
At a glance, Gedang village – some distance from the buried villages – appears to be unaffected by the mud eruption.
First impressions would be wrong though. Recently the water in 48 year old Sri Mulyowati's well has turned yellow and begun to smell.
“Now when we soak clothes they come out dirty and smelling¨ she says.
Previously the water was clean and good for showering. Now villagers must buy clean water every day. Sri Mulyowati's has her own additional reason to buy the water, which is to bath her granddaughter, Putri Salsabila. At one and a half years old it's too risky to bathe her in the contaminated well water.
“Bumps appear on her entire body right after she's taken a bath in the well water”, says Sri Mulyowati.
For one jerry can of fresh water Sri has to pay 1200 rupiah (12 cents) an extra expense that she cannot afford.
Lapindo Brantas will not take responsibility for the state of the water as Gedang village falls just outside of the 'affected area' on the map. No one else can tell them what has happened to their water so the future for the villagers of Gedang remains unclear.
One morning in September 2008 the embankments built to hold back the mud from Renokenongo village collapsed. Soon after mud and water engulfed the rice paddies and then overwhelmed the houses.
“At four o’clock, I heard the embankments had broken. At seven o’clock the mud was destroying my house” explained one of the villages.
The village had been included in the government's map of affected areas, but many of the villagers had not left due to the fact that they were still waiting for compensation from Lapindo Brantas.
Another villager, Sunaryo, had only recently built his house - it was made of bricks and freshly painted.
“I built it because I had bought the materials before the mud came in” he said.
As sturdy as the house was, it was no match for the approaching mud. Sunaryo now has to salvage what he can from his collapsed house.
“If I do not pull apart this house other people will.”
“A new place to stay is the next problem. Whether we can join with others or rebuild somewhere. The most important thing today however, is to rescue the remains of the house from the mud” explained Sunaryo.
More and more people are finding themselves in Sunaryo's situation. The mud continues to flow and the embankments cannot guarantee the security of the villages. Without promises of compensation people are reluctant to leave their homes. As Lapindo Brantas and the government dithers the mud just keeps on flowing.