Displaced Muslims concerned about Ramadhan food supply

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SHAFAQNA - Entering the Ramadhan fasting month, Muslim residents fleeing their homes in anticipation of the eruption of Mount Sinabung in Karo regency, North Sumatra, said they were struggling to perform the fast due to limited food supply and facilities provided for them at evacuation centers.

Twenty-five-year-old Suemsito Ginting, who has been staying at the Jambur Lau Buah evacuation center for the past several weeks, said many Muslims at the center were worried about whether they would have enough food for sahur (predawn meals) and for breaking the fast in the evenings during Ramadhan, which started on Thursday and will last until next month.

“We have plenty of rice at the center, but only enough side dishes for two days. It is very sad,” Suemsito told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The shelter, according to Suemsito, is currently accommodating almost 900 people, with one third of them performing the fast.

Suemsito, however, said residents at the shelter had been temporarily relieved on Wednesday after locals living nearby the center had donated two goats to the evacuees as a gesture of solidarity.

“We slaughtered the goats and cooked the mutton for our first sahur early today [Thursday],” he said.

Islamic teachings require every adult Muslim to fast during Ramadhan. During the month, a Muslim is not allowed to eat and drink from dawn until dusk.

Apart from facing food shortage, Suemsito said Muslims at the center were also unable to perform tarawih (special Ramadhan prayer services) in the evening, as the center had no space to hold mass prayers.

After hundreds of years of inactivity, Mt. Sinabung erupted in September 2013 and has never entirely stopped its activity since then, forcing residents living near the volcano to be constantly alert for possible evacuation should the volcano’s activity suddenly escalate.

Earlier this month, thousands of residents from several subdistricts surrounding Mt. Sinabung were evacuated after authorities increased the alert status of the volcano to the highest level. The volcano has seen a series of eruptions since then.

Sodikin, a local resident who has been staying at another evacuation center in Kabanjahe, said Muslims and non-Muslims at the shelter had been working together to ensure that their food stocks were enough to feed all evacuees.

“We are cooking in shifts. The earliest shift starts at 2 a.m., during which we prepare sahur for those are fasting and then breakfast for those who are not,” he said.

The latest data from the Karo regency administration shows that 10,741 people from 10 subdistricts have been evacuated in anticipation of Mt. Sinabung erupting, around half of whom are Muslim.

Speaking to the Post on Friday, Karo regent Terkelin Brahmana admitted that not all evacuation shelters had provided special prayer facilities for Muslims. 

He, however, said the local administration would soon provide such facilities to accommodate mounting requests from Muslim evacuees.

Separately, Karo Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) secretary Jhonson Tarigan said that the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) had recently disbursed Rp 1.4 billion (US$105,000) to the BPBD to help the agency ensure the availability of food stocks at local evacuation centers for the next 30 days.

“Those who perform the fast [at evacuation centers] do not need to worry about food supply. We will distribute food supplies to them every two days so that they always have a sufficient, fresh supply,” he said.

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