How the Merapi Eruption Changed the Community Forever

She is still traumatized. Episodes of the volcanic eruption appear in her dreams, 12 years after the disaster. But she is not alone. The 2010 Merapi eruption has imprinted the memories of children born before the disaster. In drawing sessions, school kids draw images of Merapi spewing lava and ash. Images contrary to the peaceful mountainous landscape and farmers working the rice fields surrounding them.

Her name is Tri Winarni. When the volcano erupted, Ibu Tri left her cows tied tightly as she fled from her village of Kepuharjo with her aging mother, brother and toddler son.

Signs of the eruption came early. A few months before, birds living in the forest close to the volcano came into the village, landing on Ibu Tri’s house and chirping somewhat differently. Monkeys abandoned their territory, as wild animals moved to safety. Cats and other domestic animals grew visibly anxious, circling the humans around them.

Yet these were all signs from nature, and Ibu Tri along with many villagers did not realise the meaning of these signs until it was too late. People living within the hazard area assumed that Merapi wouldn’t affect them, and the volcanic activity would ease soon. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

The threat of the volcano was imminent. Ibu Tri recalls leaving her cows with major regret, almost bursting into tears remembering how she and other farmers saved their own lives while leaving their livestock secured to their sheds. When the volcanic materials finally arrived, there was no way for the livestock to escape and all seven of Ibu Tri’s cows, along with many others' livestock, sadly, did not survive the event.

In volcanic danger zones, many have learned the hard way that there is a need for evacuation plans for both humans and livestock. This way, in the event of another eruption, the animals can escape alongside the community.

Ibu Tri

Ibu Tri shares what has changed after the eruption


Cultural changes

An event like the Merapi eruption usually brings the community together, but what we have seen in Kepuharjo and surrounding villages is a shift in the community culture. Ibu Tri recalls the culture of gotong royong (mutual cooperation) but since the eruption community members have become unlikely to act without money involved. Paid construction workers have now replaced the joint community’s effort in rebuilding a neighbour’s house.

The eruption has changed people’s lives, social status and economic conditions. Many have to gather back their livelihood. Some have chosen to hop into the lucrative tourism business of off-road “Merapi Lava Tours”. The tourism industry has been flourishing ever since Merapi erupted, with new photo spots and family-friendly attractions. The weekends are busy with tourists, and many local villagers leave their regular occupations as farmers to cater for these holidaymakers. It is sometimes not clear anymore whether the villagers still work in traditional roles as farmers and tour operators on the side or the other way around. 

Ibu Tri notices that in many young families, the parents are busy with their regular and weekend jobs. Pre-eruption, families used to take their kids to school and pick them up afterwards. Nowadays, elementary school students are provided with motorcycles and phones instead.

The change has also been facilitated by the unavailability of public transport. Before the eruption, there was a traditional transport system of angkot, which used small vans to transport community members around the local area. It has now disappeared. As many roads have also been repaired and are now smooth, many kids no longer want to walk. They want motorcycles to get to school and some even refuse to go if their parents will not buy one for them.

Children as young as 10 years old now are more independent than ever, riding motorbikes and having the ability to travel on their own. Parents often have no idea where they go and what they do. Juvenile delinquency is a serious problem in Yogyakarta, and this newfound freedom for youth may be considered a contributing factor, often impacting the lives of local community members. For many families though, earning money is often their top priority and the Merapi eruption has opened up doors for these new kinds of income.


Facing disasters together

More has come from the 2010 Merapi eruption than sad memories and cultural change. For the villages of Wukirsari and Kepuharjo, lessons have been learnt to never leave anyone behind. In the wake of the disaster, The Centre for Improving Qualified Activities in the Life of People with Disabilities (CIQAL), together with Kepuharjo community members, founded the creation of Komdik (the Community for Disabilities in Villages). Komdik is a platform for people living with disabilities to increase their public participation in villages. It was first piloted in Kepuharjo village.

CIQAL is an organisation that has been advocating for inclusion through regulatory and economic empowerment for people living with disabilities for over a decade. The Kepuharjo community, with support from CIQAL, created the Komdik forum, made possible by funding from YAKKUM Emergency Unit’s (YEU) IDEAKSI project.* Aside from piloting the Komdik forum, they also built an information management system (IMS) for people with disabilities ( CIQAL demonstrates how a data-centric approach can contribute to inclusive disaster preparedness and response.

Through the disaggregated data collection, 112 people living with disabilities have been identified living within Kepuharjo village, a number which was previously recorded as only 20. Data collection has also taken place in the neighbouring village Wukirsari, with 221 people identified as living with a disability. Facilitated by CIQAL and YEU, Wukirsari village is planning to learn from Kepuharjo village and create its version of Komdik. The two villages are planning to collaborate on the preparation of contingency plans, including evacuation procedures and accessible shelters. Additionally, they are going to integrate the existing IMS data for Kepuharjo village with Wukirsari village.

The development of Komdik and the integration of systems and data collection in Kepuharjo’s sister village Wukirsari is vital. As the last village before Merapi’s volcanic peak, people in Kepuharjo will evacuate towards Wukirsari as the buffer village. To support people living with disabilities, both villages need to communicate, which they now can through the Komdik web IMS interface. The IMS can pinpoint where people living with disabilities live, ensuring effective rescue efforts.

Arni Surwanti, CIQAL’s program manager and IDEAKSI’s innovator team leader, said that they also aim to increase community awareness by educating people living with disabilities about the disaster threats around them. Secondly, they also plan to provide village officials with specific knowledge for the evacuation process of people living with disabilities. In this way, the villages’ emergency response teams will be able to prioritize their evacuation in the event of another disaster.

With their substantial presence in the villages, Komdik-like communities can meaningfully increase the public participation of persons living with disabilities in disaster response. In Kepuharjo and Wukirsari, the groups are expected to empower the people and motivate them to appear in the public, going beyond the walls of their homes.


Changing for the better

Kepuharjo village is an example of a community changing for the better. Joining hands with their neighbours to develop inclusive emergency response plans is something to be celebrated.

12 years later, Ibu Tri now lives in Batur permanent residence (huntap) in Kepuharjo village. Batur is a government-built settlement for people displaced from the 2010 eruption. Ibu Tri and her family, like many others, are still rebuilding their lives. In the new community, 3 shared cow barns replace household cattle stalls, housing cattle owned by 150 families.

Ibu Tri, like many others, was a survivor of the 2010 eruption. As a person living with a physical disability, she knows the challenges of rapid evacuation. Initiatives like the creation of Komdik and the Kepuharjo–Wukirsari sister village program provide Ibu Tri and her community with disaster response skills allowing them to feel more confident in facing future Merapi eruptions.

The inclusive innovation of Komdik, with the support of CIQAL and sister villages Kepuharjo and Wukirsari together, can demonstrate the possibilities of inclusive disaster response. Through collaboration and cooperation, the communities can support each other throughout an emergency, teaching us that we no longer have to leave anyone behind.



*The IDEAKSI (short for Idea, Innovation, Action, and Inclusion) program is a part of the Community-Led Innovation Partnership (CLIP) run by the YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU). The partnership supports the emergence and development of locally-driven solutions to humanitarian problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo (deferred), Guatemala, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As part of the partnership, IDEAKSI seeks to find innovative and inclusive solutions to disaster management for most-at-risk groups, including persons with disabilities and the elderly.

Through the support provided by Elrha, Start Network, the Asia Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN) Tokyo Innovation Hub, and funding by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), YEU is able to organize IDEAKSI as its CLIP project in Indonesia.


Written by: Lorenzo Fellycyano

Edited by: Taylor Lemmon