|Subject: KY: UN setting bad precedent in E.
Timor : environmentalists
U.N. setting bad precedent in E. Timor : environmentalists.
DILI, East Timor, June 16 Kyodo
The U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is sending
a wrong message to the devastated territory by failing to allocate funds
for environmental protection in its new budget, according to local
"UNTAET doesn't seem to care much about the environment,"
eco-tourism specialist and environmental advocate Vicente Ximenes said
regarding UNTAET's $59 million budget to be submitted to an international
donors' conference in Lisbon next Wednesday for approval.
"It's very sad and disappointing," said Ximenes, who handles
environmental affairs and tourism at the National Council for Timorese
Resistance (CNRT), East Timor's main pro-independence umbrella political
"If they only want to speed up reconstruction, I'm afraid it will
have a very negative impact on the environment," he said.
Ximenes' views were echoed by Demetrio Amaral, executive director of
Haburas, an East Timorese nongovernmental organization dealing with
environmental issues, who said, "Zero budget for the environment is a
wrong decision. It sets a bad precedent for East Timor. It also doesn't
reflect the real situation now in East Timor, where we now face pollution
and other environmental problems."
The two environmentalists expressed concern UNTAET's five-member
environmental protection unit (EPU) may be disbanded under a new
administrative structure to be introduced July 1 after donors endorse the
In the draft budget, covering the fiscal year starting July, priority
is given to health, education, infrastructure and agriculture. To the
dismay of environmentalists, it was also approved by the CNRT despite
their lobbying activities.
"It has been a very difficult exercise in which the Timorese have
been fully involved. In fact, it is they who presented the final proposal,
a very courageous proposal," UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello told
reporters last Monday in presenting the budget.
"This will be an austere budget, a budget that will demonstrate to
donors in Lisbon that we are serious, that the East Timorese leadership is
serious, and that we are not intending to rely indefinitely on external
budget support to East Timor," de Mello said.
Amaral lamented, however, that because East Timor faces the immense
challenge of rebuilding from ashes, "there is an overwhelming danger
that in national development plans, protection of the environment will be
accorded least priority."
Indeed, environmental problems are already becoming increasingly
evident, with questionable waste disposal practices by overseas
contractors receiving scant attention, unregulated vendors springing up
all over Dili and dumping waste plastic packets and garbage into the sea
Large chunks of rare coral are being openly sold from roadside stalls
to U.N. staff and soldiers, while the high prices of fuel and kerosene
have led to intensified destruction of forests and mangroves for firewood.
Problems inherited from the pre-UNTAET period include large-scale
logging, shifting cultivation, use of chemical fertilizers and the
Indonesian military's deliberate deforestation to deny cover to Falintil
Amaral said only a small amount of funding is needed to help start
programs to educate the East Timorese about the importance of protecting
their environment, strengthen environmental advocacy and promote
De Mello said that while he personally attaches "great
importance" to the environment, the sheer scope of East Timor 's
requirements after the militia-perpetrated devastation that followed the
Aug. 30 independence vote means, "We have to prioritize."
"If I have to choose between sale of coral and registering all the
vehicles that go around East Timor without number plates, without any
known owner, I would opt for the latter," he said.
While the top administrator said EPU would "in all likelihood
remain" in UNTAET's new structure, both Ximenes and Amaral expressed
Ximenes warned that if the unit is disbanded and its staff absorbed by
other sections, the environmental watchdog role in UNTAET will disappear
"If you leave something for everyone concerned, at the end nobody
is concerned. We need an EPU as a watchdog for all parts of the
government. We need to start protecting the environment now," he
Amaral urged donor nations "to pressure UNTAET and the CNRT not to
remove the EPU under the new structure, and to show their concern about
environment through action and not just rhetoric."
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