Subject: Lusa: Asbestos Contamination Overshadows Reconstruction Efforts

East Timor: Asbestos Contamination Overshadows Reconstruction Efforts 4 Aug-20:58

The use of asbestos for construction during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor has proved a major headache for the territory's current UN administration, with various institutions scaling back clean-up and reconstruction work due to potential health risks.

Controversy over the issue increased in recent months, after documents compiled by Interfet indicated widespread use of asbestos and that rubble from buildings destroyed in post-plebiscite violence constituted a serious health problem.

Interfet (the International Force for East Timor) troops arrived in East Timor with a UN mandate last Sept. 20, three weeks after the territory's independence plebiscite. The force was replaced last February by the UN Peacekeeping Force (PKF) attached to the UN Transition Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

However, the Interfet recommendations were ignored by the UN, leading several non-governmental organizations operating in East Timor to ask UNTAET to identify contaminated buildings.

Some 2,000 workers are meanwhile working on the clean-up of Dili and other areas, with 600 in direct contact with building rubble, some of it likely contaminated with asbestos. Such workers are provided with masks and gloves, a measure some NGOs consider to be insufficient.

The UN official in charge of the health sector, Jim Tuloch, told Lusa Friday that the asbestos problem was "something that has to be resolved," adding that an immediate policy to "minimize risks" was already being implemented.

Tuloch denied any suggestion of interrupting the clean-up and reconstruction program. Such occurrence would increase the potential risk from other more serious diseases associated to rubble and garbage, such as dengue fever and malaria, he said.

JBC -Lusa

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