As floods and landslides leave widespread damage across Timor-Leste, including in capital Dili, United Nations agencies are supporting response efforts in the country.
Media reports say at least 21 people died in the country and many more are missing. Large parts of Dili are inundated, with water level as high as two meters reported in some neighbourhoods.
Severe damage has also been reported to critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and medical centres. Communication networks and electricity are said to be disrupted in some of the worst affected areas.
UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste, Roy Trivedy, says UN agencies and partners are supporting the national response, adding that “as an emergency response measure, [we] extend full support to the people and Government of Timor-Leste in this hour of need.”
“We are deeply concerned about the communities, especially women and children, who are often most affected by natural disasters. We will work with the authorities to mobilize all possible resources to support the response”, Trivedy adds.
There are concerns that the disaster could hit COVID-19 prevention and response efforts, as a major laboratory and two quarantine facilities in Dili have been damaged. A medical supply depot is also said to have been flooded.
There are fears that the situation could deteriorate further, if the rains do not let up.
Damage has also been reported across the border, in Indonesia, where more than 40 people are reported to have died.
According to UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director in Timor-Leste, Dageng Liu, “the priority right now is to continue evacuating and relocating of families most affected”.
He added that food and cooking facilities are also needed in evacuation centres, as are vehicles to transport people there. As of Monday, about 3,000 people are sheltering in some 11 evacuation centres in Dili.
“WFP has provided transport support to other UN agencies to move their supplies and we are fully committed to doing our part once we know more about the extent of the damages”, Liu added.
Then Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste in late September 2009 paid tribute to the UN for the world body’s role over the past decade and more in supporting the South-East Asian nation on its path to independence.
“It was through the United Nations that a solution was found for what was then tabled as the ‘question of East Timor’’, then Timorese Foreign Minister, Zacarias Albano da Costa, told the General Assembly.
“It was the United Nations that shouldered the responsibility of finding a just solution to that question and was indeed able to do so with success”, da Costa said in a speech to the annual General Debate at UN Headquarters in New York.
He noted that the decision to employ the UN to resolve his country’s conflict through peaceful means and to defer to the UN Charter was a wise one.
“The engagement with the United Nations continues to be the policy of Timor-Leste today”, he added. “Timor-Leste has benefited greatly from this engagement, through the dedicated work of successive UN missions and through the presence and work of the various United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.”
Timorese turned out in huge numbers on August 30, 1999 to vote in a popular consultation on their future. The result – announced five days later on September 4,– was an overwhelming choice for independence over autonomy within Indonesia.
UN administrators moved in soon after the vote, which was followed by widespread violence in which 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed, and helped shepherd Timor-Leste to its eventual independence as a State in 2002.
“The UN’s current mission in Timor-Leste, UNMIT, is a testament to the need for a longer term engagement by the UN”, said da Silva, noting that the crisis in 2006 – when tensions within the security sector led to deadly riots – was a reminder of the fragility of peace when State institutions are still weak and need strengthening.