Mudflow victims education neglected

The health of students at two elementary schools and two kindergartens in Pejarakan and Besuki villages, which have yet to be relocated at the hot mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo, East Java, is at risk because of the methane gas they breathe.

Every day students and teachers have to breathe in methane and face the looming threats of the hot mudflow, said Mochamad Solichin, head of Jabon district where the two villages are located. Students and teachers at SDN Pejarakan state elementary school in Jabon have complained of trouble using lavatory facilities due to the presence of gas in the bathroom, which reportedly began at the end of September.

Student Ahmad Syarifudin, 10, appeared uneasy when it rained during a lesson. He said he could not urinate until the rain subsided. I cannot stand being in the bathroom because every time it rains the smell of gas makes my chest hurt. I can only urinate behind the school or run to a resident's house when the rain subsides, he told The Jakarta Post Thursday.

SDN Pejarakan principal Mudzakir Fakir said female students and teachers also complain about the poor sanitation and unclean water for their bathroom needs. Since the mudflow [began] four year ago, the water has become murky and smells like kerosene. The condition is not only found in the school, but also in homes located within a five kilometer radius of the mudflow gush point, Mudzakir said, adding that the conditions had disrupted both the teaching and learning processes at his school.

The Feasibility Assessment and Settlement taskforce, formed by former East Java Governor Imam Utomo in 2008, said water from hundreds of resident's wells around the mudflow area was not fit for consumption because it had been contaminated with chloride, sulfate, natrium, magnesium and calcium. In addition to contaminated wells, the team also warned that hazardous exposure to methane gas could cause cancer and death.

Methane was initially detected in Siring Barat district in Porong in early April 2008. Five people were killed and five others were rushed to the hospital for breathing disorders triggered by inhaling the gas. Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) community environment and sanitation expert Eddy Soedjono said methane emitted from the mudflow is not only flammable, it could also accelerate the global warming process, thereby making its impacts not only harmful to mudflow victims, but also the international community. Based on research conducted by ITS, methane contents emitted from the mudflow are much more dangerous than the carbon monoxide emissions of vehicles in Surabaya and Jakarta combined, Eddy said. The government had compensated many residents in Pejarakan, but had not paid attention to public facilities, especially schools around the Lapindo mudflow area, Mochamad Solichin said. Sidoarjo regency council mudflow special committee member Zainul Lutfi urged the government to immediately take swift measures to relocate the schools in order to prevent disruption of the teaching and learning process.

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