At a time when world attention has been trapped by the drama unfolding in this week's volcanic eruptions in Bali, there is a sidebar of history that seems to have escaped international attention.
Volcanologists linked to PVMBG volcano center for geological disaster mitigation in Rendang, Bali have been working all day for months, now monitoring the situation around Mt Agung. However, recently they have been criticized by the provincial government and also by the tourism sector. While in reality volcanologists have been issuing warning levels according to well-considered parameters that have been internationally recognized by geologists such as the USGS, local and provincial governments have protested that their warnings and terminology have been detrimental to the lucrative tourism trade. on the island.
When the highest level of alert was called on September 22, there was panic: the local disaster mitigation agency, BPBD, was ill-prepared and, in fact, also the local and provincial governments. Chaos ensued, villagers panicked, roads jammed, and many spent the night in their cars. After a week or two, complaints from the tourism sector began. They were upset because they were going to lose money since cancellations due to the lack of flight insurance began to affect them. In fact, most of the island's tourism industry is relatively safe outside the Karangasem area. But perhaps a more difficult point is the fact that Bali will host the IMF conference in October 2018, and preparations have been threatened by the current state.
Meanwhile, the effort to manipulate in some way the recommendations of the PVMBG (once until the government responds) continued, trying to minimize the impact. The mountain has been very active for two months with numerous different types of tremors, reaching one point to more than a thousand a day. Even so, the government complained about how important the commitment to the IMF conference was, especially the infrastructure developments that were planned. Perhaps more revealing was the fact that the main sand quarries for such developments are found on the flanks of Mount Agung, in fact, in the exclusion zones recommended by the PVMBG.
PVMBG remained firm (it is a multidisciplinary evaluation after all). Not only the governor of Bali, Mangku Pastika, began to question his judgment, but also the Minister of Coordination for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Panjaitan. A former commander of the special forces, Luhut, is also in charge of the preparations for the IMF conference. To put this in a fair perspective, Luhut has relied extensively on the advice of Surono, a former head of the PVMBG who until recently was the special staff of the minister of energy and mineral resources. That in itself would seem legitimate.
Retired from his post as head of PVMBG, Surono visited the observation post when the alert level was raised to its highest level, 4 or "Awas"; together with the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources as special advisor. At that time, it seemed that he agreed with the level 4 alert. However, when he saw Surono's posts on social media weeks later something curious came up. He started by saying that the call to Awas had been made too early, that the volcano should have erupted. The governor of Bali intervened, claiming that the volcano should really have erupted on September 23, the day after the alert level had risen. When the volcanologists at the Rendang booth were asked if they had caused a panic attack, they were not thanked: "We call alert level according to all parameters and with the safety of the people in mind. immediately we do not insist on immediate evacuation, that is not our decision, our call is to give a clear scientific reading about the probabilities and recommend what the local government considers appropriate to do is their call ".
When things seemed to settle down, the alert level was reduced to 3 (Siaga). Despite this, the PVMBG scientists insisted that they would not rule out an eruption. Then, another independent scientist, Lesto, stated that he was establishing a network of independent seismological sensors in Bali. Suffice it to say that things have become confusing.
Then, on November 9, a Richter scale 5 earthquake hit the northeast flanks of Agung, on the same fault as in 1963. In addition to the 19.5 million cubic meters of magma that had already been moved to the depths of the mountain, another 19.5 million cubic meters moved. The tremors and tremors that mean that the magma pierced its path through the plug continued, rising 40 km just 5 km from the crater. Volcanologist Devy Kamal Syahbana said they have been monitoring several parameters; It was not a surprise given the circumstances.
After weeks of steam clouds arising from the rain that falls on the heated crater, a fortnight ago Mt Agung had his first rash & # 39; phreatic & # 39; (later shown as frea-magmatic) that is caused by the water inside that comes in contact with the magma inside the mountain. Absurdly, the tourism sector, together with elements of the provincial government, protested against the word "eruption", saying that it seemed that Bali was not safe. Gede Suantika of the PVMBG was called, hoping to find another term "friendly with tourism". But Gede Suantika remained firm. Then, the heat turned on the journalists, trying to change their words. All of which did not cause a grudge among the ranks of the local journalists, who had even started a campaign #istandwithpvmbg with shirt and all.
What started as freato-magmatic eruptions entered a serious magmatic phase. The eruptions have sent clouds of volcanic material at 3,500 meters into the sky, interrupting all flights to Bali. The alert level of the volcano was set to 4 again several days ago, and the VONA flight alerts Red (for the moment it has gone back to Orange, but it is fluctuating). The villagers are once again being evacuated. So far it has been what is called effusive eruptions, but Mt Agung is known for its explosive nature. It is one of the 58 volcanoes in the world to reach the volcanic explosive index 5, and one of only 7 to do so consecutively over the centuries. The mountain is complex: during the last two days it seems to have calmed down. Volcanologists in Rendang say it's still too early to say.
What is difficult to understand is why the PVMBG recommendations have been the subject of so many secondary and half-hearted opinions. They are the only authority recognized in volcanoes in Indonesia; They focus their work with scientific discipline and are respected internationally. Its main concern is scientific precision and the recommendation of disaster mitigation. Everyone is welcome to the Rendang publication. They allow journalists to camp and ask questions and are patient when responding. Is all this maneuvering on the sidelines, whether for money or fame, really in the interest of the people in Bali?
More to the point, why does this kind of denial even happen? It is clear that the volcano is probably on its way to a large eruption. It would be much more responsible (and respectable) to embrace reality. Undoubtedly, tourism would be better served if the industry recognized the problems and joined them to mitigate the disasters. There is a lot to do, educate people, provide alternative sources of income and make sure that evacuation camps are suitable for living, for example. It does not have to be a disaster: it can simply be a natural phenomenon that we can observe from a safe distance. Trivial as it may seem, health and safety come first, money is second.