Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Bandung told to regreen hill to stop landslides

Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

Environmentalists urged the government on Wednesday to soon reforest Patrol Hill near the village of Wangonjaya in Cikalong Wetan subdistrict, Bandung, West Java, in order to prevent further landslides.

The call was made after a landslide hit the area on Monday night, leaving at least eight people dead and another still missing.

Surono, head of the Bandung mitigation and geological disaster sub-directorate, said that an investigation by his office's team found a 15 meter crack in the hill, which was formerly wooded but was cleared and turned into farmland.

"We assure you that if heavy rains fall again, more landslides will occur," he told journalists in Bandung.

Monday's landslide buried eight of 16 houses on the slope.

Rescue workers assisted by security personnel and villagers continued to search on the for the remaining missing person, identified as Entang.

The death toll rose to eight after two more victims -- Aisyah and Nani -- were found on Tuesday evening and Wednesday, respectively.

The six bodies recovered on Tuesday included four toddlers -- Yuni, Asep, Riri and Ulfa -- while the remaining two were identified as Maman, Ulfa's father, and Alan, 67.

At least 11 other villagers have been hospitalized for injuries suffered in the landslide.

Surono said the landslide in Wangonjaya was still a minor disaster, as it only affected a volume of land measuring 20x15x5 meters.

The Bandung office of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) said the rainfall in Wangonjaya was still below the normal rainy-season level on Monday when the landslide hit.

The agency recorded rainfall at only 23 millimeters on Monday, below the level recorded three days earlier at 46 mm.

However, the landslide had a fatal effect because it carried mud and torrents of water down the slope, Surono said.

"As the heavy rain fell constantly over the hill that has been turned into farmland, the soil became heavy, while the surface was not strong enough to hold, and caused the landslide that buried houses on the slope."

Surono also called on the local administration to relocate the 16 houses on the slope to safer areas, so as to smooth the way for the reforestation program on Patrol Hill.

If the 70 or so villagers refused to be relocated, they would have to take refuge every time heavy rains fell, he said.

Wangonjaya village head Ii Mulyana said some of the villagers were ready to move to other areas, provided that they were relocated to the same village as their relatives.

West Java Governor Danny Setiawan said his administration was ready to assist the efforts by Bandung Regent Obar Sobarna to relocate the landslide victims.

However, Danny said the government was experiencing difficulty in persuading the victims to move to safer areas, as they had been living on the slope for many decades.

Obar warned residents of possible landslides and floods that might occur during the rainy season in several parts of Bandung regency.

At least 13 subdistricts are at risk of being hit by landslides, and 14 others are at risk of being flooded, he said.

Obar was quoted by Antara as saying that his government had already relocated some residents from landslide-prone areas.

Many areas in Bandung have become prone to landslides, in part due to deforestation by local farmers, he said, urging local residents to stop deforestation and instead preserve the forests in order to prevent landslides and floods.

The landslide-prone subdistricts include Cikalong Wetan, Rongga, Sindangkerta, Cililin, Gununghalu, Lembang, Pangalengan, Ciwidey, Arjasari, Pacet, Cicalengka, Padalarang and Paseh.