Mount Sinabung / Eruption of Indonesian volcano shines light on disaster tourism proposal

Posted on: February 20, 2018 | Current Affairs

Sumatra’s Sinabung volcano erupts for the third time in eight years, spewing ash 5,000m into the sky and triggering ‘red notice’ warning to airlines

Mount Sinabung erupted on 19 February, blowing volcanic ash more than 5,000 meters the sky Photo: Tibta Nangin/EPA-EFE

Mount Sinabung on the Indonesian island of Sumatra erupted on Monday night for the third time in eight years, sending searing gas down its slopes and billowing ash clouds as high as 5,000m into the sky.

According to the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), there were no fatalities or casualties, though the regional volcanic ash advisory center in Darwin, Australia, issued a ‘red notice’ to airlines in response to the eruption.

The volcano’s last three eruptions forced some 30,000 people from their homes and claimed 25 lives.

Mount Sinabung’s most recent explosion comes roughly four months after the Balinese volcano Mount Agung erupted for the first time in more than half a century, a seismic event that sent the island’s thriving tourism industry into meltdown.

With the number of Australian tourists visiting Bali in the peak tourist month of December down by 50% and arrivals from China that month dropping from 100,000 to 11,500, the eruption of Mount Agung is estimated to have cost the island’s tourism industry a staggering $1.5 billion.

The industry has, however, shown signs of recovery over the past few weeks, spurred on by the authorities’ decision last weekend to reduce the size of the volcano exclusion zone from six kilometres from the crater to four and the natural boost in arrivals caused by Chinese New Year. More importantly, evacuees have been able to return to their homes.

Despite the very real life-threatening risks posed by the volcanoes, BNPB officials in the past have mooted the possibility of promoting disaster tourism as means of benefitting economically from the volcanic eruptions. 

“Volcano eruptions do not happen everywhere around the world and are not phenomena that come around often,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the Straits Times in October, before emphasising that viewing sites for volcanoes should remain outside danger zones and be delineated by the authorities.

The proposal was warmly embraced by self-styled extreme adventurer Karl Kaddouri, a French hotel worker in Bali who just weeks before had defied warnings and scaled a rumbling Mount Agung on the brink of eruption.

Asked by the Straits Times about the disaster tourism, Kaddouri responded: “I would like to be one of the ambassadors to promote this plan in Indonesia as well as overseas.”

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