Villagers watch as Mount Sinabung releases pyroclastic flows during an eruption in Namantaran, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Pic: AP.

People displaced, crops buried, hope of going home fades, reports IRIN for Asia Sentinel

Although thousands of people displaced by steadily falling ash from Indonesia’s active Mount Sinabung thought they would be able to return to their homes and resume their livelihoods, those hopes have been dashed.

“I don’t think they will be able to go home any time soon,” said Marthin Hutabarat, a spokesman for the Indonesian Red Cross, adding that those who had been courageous enough attempt to go to their homes have since returned to shelters.

“The displaced people will need livelihood support for the next few months, as many of their crops have been destroyed,” said Benny Kaban, a protestant priest and aid worker who has been assisting in the coordination of assistance.

At least 16 people were killed when the 2,600-meter volcano in Karo District, in the north of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, unexpectedly erupted a week ago after months of rumbling, and spewing hot gas and rocks.

On Friday the authorities had allowed thousands of residents from more than a dozen villages to return to their homes on or near the slopes of the volcano after a lull in volcanic activity created a false expectation of safety.

Stress in the shelters
Since Sinabung began its latest round of eruptions in September 2013, more than 30,000 people have been displaced and are now living in 42 shelters set up in government buildings, schools and mosques, and other centres across Karo District, outside the 7km exclusion zone established by the government in January.

Since September, the Red Cross has distributed three million liters of clean water, food, blankets and tarpaulins, as well as 200,000 face masks to prevent the fine volcanic ash from being inhaled, and has also provided psychological counselling for displaced residents.

Some who had been staying in temporary evacuation centres for weeks had already begun showing signs of stress, worrying about the loss of their crops and the income from them. Most residents in the area are subsistence farmers and make their living growing coffee, cocoa or fruit.

“They have enough food to eat [in the shelters], regardless of the nutritional quality, but it’s clear that they are suffering psychologically,” Hutabarat said. “We see people who stare emptily into space. Their farms and homes have been destroyed and they don’t what they are going to do in the future.”

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