At last count, there were over 1,500 identified active volcanoes in the world and of these 130 of them are grouped in the 17,500 island chain of Indonesia – far more than in any other country. And some of these are famous – or rather, infamous.
Why are there so many in Indonesia?
Indonesia is part of what has been dubbed as the “Ring of Fire” that covers 25,000 miles strung across the Pacific Ocean. This area is more of an accident of geography than it is anything else. Indonesia practically straddles a juncture of colliding tectonic plates and is at the center of some of the most violent geophysical activity on the planet.
And hundreds of millions of people live near them – 120 million on Java alone, which has most of them. That’s a problem.
Unfortunately for these residents, Indonesia has among the worst killer volcanoes in the world, the number of which depends on which list is consulted.
Papandayan, Kelut, Krakatoa, and Tambora are on the top-10 “Deadly Volcano Eruptions” list. While Marapi (the “Mountain of Fire”) makes the top-10 most dangerous list.
Many people are somewhat familiar with Krakatoa (Krakatow). Krakatoa, which is actually an island between Java and Sumatra, last vented its rage in the summer of 1883 with a series of violent explosions that was heard as far away as Perth, Australia. More than 37,000 people were killed in this eruption, and it is thought the death toll was actually much larger.
The 4,300 meter high Tambora last exploded in June of 1815, and this eruption caused serious global effects. Besides killing more than 71,000 people, Tambora spewed enough volcanic debris into the stratosphere to cause some of the worst famines in American and European history.
The “Mountain of Fire” Morapi erupts about once every decade, the last time in 2006. The Indonesian city of Yogyakarta (as well as some smaller villages) is situated right on the slopes of this killer. In 2006, 5,000 people or so were killed and 200,000 more were left homeless.
So why do so many people live in an area where future eruptions – and much more loss of life are almost a lead pipe synch?
There are two main reasons. One is that this region (except for the eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis) is otherwise a paradise. The second reason is that there is no other place to go. And some, following ancient beliefs that these eruptions, quakes, and tsunamis are a result of angry gods or ogres that need appeasing, refuse to leave out of a sense of duty. One can only wait to see what happens next.