Fluoride Action Network

East Java. Kawah Ijen: Between potential & threat

Source: The Jakarta Post | December 19th, 2011 | By Indra Harsaputra,
Industry type: Volcanoes


After three major eruptions 3,500 years ago that created a caldera measuring 22 by 25 kilometers, the Ijen volcano rose to world fame for its crater lake with the most acidic water in the globe.

Looming behind the natural beauty and geothermal energy potential of the Ijen crater or Kawah Ijen, however, is a threat to millions of people settling around the East Java volcano…

Several geologists have indicated dangers the volcano poses to the local population. Primarily these dangers are a result of the permeation of highly acidic crater water into other water supplies rather than its volcanic activity. On its way to the sea, the highly acidic water passes settlements, paddy fields, plantations and sugar mills.

Based on research conducted by Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang, Central Java in 2007, the lake’s acidic water has polluted rivers and local people’s wells. Consequently, the residents are facing tooth and bone damage, while agricultural production is reduced.

The polluted water is still used to irrigate 3,564 hectares of paddy fields, considerably affecting the lives of millions of people in the vicinity of the Ijen volcano.

The university’s report shows that the people around Banyupahit and Banyuputih rivers know they consume contaminated water but their awareness of its hazard is still low.

The study, supported by Holland’s Universiteit Utrech, Open Universiteit Nederland and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, also reveals lower biodiversity resulting from acidic water and high numbers of people suffering from fluorosis, due to too much fluorine in drinking water.

“The say the well water here gets poisoned by the crater lake water. But most residents and I don’t care about this effect because we’ve consumed it so far and felt alright,” said Khusairi, who has lived near the volcano for decades and used the water for other purposes.

Surono, head of PVMBG, said the consumption of contaminated well water could cause abnormal body growth and eventually shorten the life span of local people. He made a recommendation to the East Java governor and local authorities to channel the lake water to the sea by digging a tunnel, covering a distance of 42 km.

Yet the people living on Ijen’s slopes consider nature a reliable friend rather than a threat, feeling convinced that nature and its water will not hurt them.

“They carry on their routines … and regard [nature] as a safe home to depend on,” said Bagong Suyanto, a rural community observer from Airlangga University, Surabaya…