Seven children were among the 43 people killed by the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Semeru volcano on Saturday, Save the Children said today. Four of the seven children were primary-school age, and the rest were at junior high schools. 

Save the Children said the deaths of the children could have been avoided if child-friendly early warning systems had been in place, such as plain language signs with pictures in schools and other places where children will see them. The agency said that the absence of such systems may have contributed to the children being unable to flee to safety before the eruption reached them. 

Wiwied Trisnadi, Senior Humanitarian Manager at Save the Children in Indonesia, said:  

We are deeply saddened to learn of the deaths of these seven children, who were not able to evacuate to safety in time. It is alarming that in Indonesia, a country prone to volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes, there are not child-friendly early warning systems available to help children better understand and respond to the hazards around them.”  

Save the Children is urging the Indonesian government to establish child-friendly warning systems in areas at high risk of volcanic eruption, and to ensure children are educated about how to use them. 

In Indonesia, disaster alerts are issued via a mobile-phone application, but many people in disaster-prone areas still do not have access to mobile technology and rely on outdated warning systems like the bashing of bamboo sticks to alert people of the need to evacuate.  

Thousands of homes were destroyed after smouldering hot ash from the eruption buried villages near the volcano. Thousands of people were displaced and 22 people are still missing, according to emergency responders, who are still digging through thick layers of ash and debris to find survivors.  

Local people reported that the volcanic eruption was so large that it blocked out the sun, temporarily leaving surrounding districts in complete darkness. Rain has since triggered volcanic mud slides, which has made an already difficult disaster response still more challenging. 

Together with a coalition of NGOs, Save the Children Indonesia is will conduct a Joint Needs Assessment for impacted children and their families, covering education child protection, health and nutrition and food security and livelihoods.  

Mount Semeru, Indonesia’s most active volcano, previously erupted in December last year, forcing thousands of families to evacuate to surrounding areas.