Hot stones, smoldering ashes: community radio, a vital source of information around Mount Merapi in Indonesia

Remon, a 42-year-old amateur DJ with fellow community radio Gema Merapi (Echo de Merapi) in Wukirsari village, Yogyakarta, said the radios can also be used to educate people to be better prepared during eruptions.

“There are people who don’t evacuate and think, ‘There is no way my village will be affected (by an eruption)’.

“There are also those who would say, ‘People from a neighboring village are not evacuating, so why should we?’ We had to educate them that different areas have different threats and levels of risk,” Remon, who also goes by a name, told CNA.

Community radios in Merapi have been so vital to emergency response and disaster preparedness that government officials, academics and activists are seeking to establish a similar network of radios in other disaster-prone areas.

FILLING THE INFORMATION GAP

Located just 4 km from the Merapi Crater and overlooking a deep scar on its southeast slopes where lava often flows, the village of Sidorejo in Klaten Regency in Central Java is in constant danger.

The government has installed sirens in different parts of the village to warn residents of potential eruptions.

“But the sirens were going off when it wasn’t supposed to because there was a short circuit and so on. Conversely, sirens would remain silent during an eruption due to technical issues,” local resident Sukiman Mohtar Pratomo told CNA.

“It got us thinking, ‘There has to be a way to communicate quickly and effectively with multiple people at once.’ In 2002, we finally found an answer: “Why not radio?”

The 52-year-old and several others then set up Lintas Merapi FM. Lintas is the Indonesian word for cross.

Sidorejo residents were initially indifferent to community radio, but Lintas Merapi FM, which broadcasts 24 hours a day, proved its worth when Merapi broke up four years later.

“We also evacuated and broadcast from an evacuation shelter. We have provided the evacuees with information about what is happening at the top of the mountain. We were constantly relaying information from the BPPTKG,” Pratomo said, referring to the geological disaster agency.

“The radio can be heard 15 km away, so people in many evacuation centers could listen to our broadcast. We passed on information about volunteering opportunities, aid shortages, etc., as well as entertainment for evacuees and a way for them to express themselves.

Seventy percent of homes still have radios, either plugged in or battery-powered, and people are also tuning in with the radio feature on their cellphones, Pratomo added.

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