Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Asbestos contamination in East Timor

<The following letter concerning asbestos contamination has been sent to the Deputy SRSG. Additional endorsees are still welcome and a Tetun version is available upon request. Many senior members of UNTAET have had specific knowledge of the asbestos problem and health risks since at least the end of May but have so far declined to take action.>

Dear NGOs working in East Timor,

Asbestos was identified as a serious public health issue at this week's INGO meeting, attended by the new director of the NGO Forum. The meeting attendees decided to issue a letter to be forwarded to relevant officeholders in UNTAET, CNRT and amongst funding bodies.

Following below find the letter which is now circulating amongst all NGOs for endorsement, prior to submission to Jean- Christian Cady early next week.

If you wish to be identified in the letter as an endorser and supportive of the contents, please:

Contact by email: <> -or- Sign the letter in the NGO office at OCHA -or- Contact Ewa Wojkowska (ETDA) at 0409130595

Best regards,


<start letter>

To: Mr. Jean-Christian Cady, Deputy SRSG UNTAET

Cc: Xanana Gusmao, President CNRT Cecilio Adorna, Social Services UNTAET Let. Gen. Jaime de Los Santos, UNPKF Joao Carrascalao, CNRT Infrastructure CNRT Emergency Commission Takeshi Kamiyama, Environmental Protecton Unit UNTAET Anders Erixon, Land and Property Commission, UNTAET James Tulloch, Office of Health Services UNTAET Win Htut, BMS UNTAET Dili District Administrator, UNTAET Dili District Infrastructure District Administrators USAID World Bank UNDP

June 30, 2000


Dear Mr. Cady,

At our weekly meeting on 27 June 2000, NGOs learned that asbestos contamination is a serious public health problem in East Timor and particularly in Dili.

We understand that many buildings in Dili and particularly the majority of public buildings constructed after 1975 used asbestos extensively in their roofing and ceiling materials. Building rubble throughout Dili is now contaminated with this lethal substance following last year's violence and destruction.

Asbestos fibres are minute and, without proper protection, are inhaled whenever disturbed. Once inhaled, asbestos remains in the human body. It causes mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases for which there is no cure. In Australia, public health officials estimate that these diseases will kill between 20,000 and 50,000 people over the next 20 years.

We are very concerned that UNTAET and those agencies which are funding UNTAET activities are engaged in many project areas where workers and members of the public are being exposed to asbestos without any of the protections in place which have governed handling of asbestos since the ILO Asbestos Convention 1986, #162 and ILO Asbestos Recommendation R172.

Members of the both the public and of peacekeeping forces who are working on cleanup programs which involve any disturbance of contaminated building rubble are subject to potentially lethal exposure. These likely include TEP, QUIP and EGP projects.

UNTAET's BMS and Infrastructure departments are using their own staff as well as local and international contractors to implement an ambitious program of public facilities reconstruction with no evidence that recognised procedures are in place to assure safe handling and disposal of asbestos and other harmful contaminants.

People and business people throughout Dili are engaged in the rebuilding of homes and workplaces without the benefit of a public information campaign or access to procedures and safety equipment which would protect their health.

We are very concerned to learn that a comprehensive survey was conducted by Interfet in January which identified the presence of asbestos and other health hazards in the Cantonment area. This area is now identified as the concentration of public buildings and functions, during the transitional period and beyond.

Further, we understand that copies of this survey were distributed to key people within UNTAET and Dili District Administration at the end of May (by a consultant working for APHEDA.)

We are unaware of any actions which UNTAET has taken as a result of receiving this information. This would mean that innumerable people have potentially and unnecessarily been exposed to asbestos in the interim.

We therefore call upon UNTAET and all stakeholders who encounter asbestos or who have an interest in this issue to take the following steps, until such time as a safe and comprehensive asbestos testing, removal, dumping and public education program is resourced and in place:

1. A halt to any further work on public buildings and neighborhood cleanup programs which involve building rubble or potential exposure to asbestos.

2. Stop any further removals and subsequent dumping of building rubble at the Tibar site or any other locations.

3. Mark off all buildings and sites identified in the January Interfet survey with barriers to prevent entry and post those sites with warning signs in all appropriate languages which warn people of the dangers.

4. Initiate an ambitious public education campaign which explains the risks of exposure and provides information which enables people to identify places and circumstances where they may be at risk.

We further call upon UNTAET to institute an asbestos program with a specialist coordinator which includes procedures outlined in international standards:

- for testing for the presence of asbestos and other harmful contaminants at public cleanup and building renovation sites prior to start of any work.

- that impose safe and well-established international practice for the safe handling and removal of contaminated materials by qualified personnel

- that assure that materials such as asbestos are dumped in such as way as to eliminate the risk of any future contamination.

We await your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Mellor Ewa Wojkowska APHEDA East Timor Development Agency (ETDA) 0407 001 699 0409130595

Endorsed by:

Jesuit Refugee Service SAHE CARE La'o Hamutuk LAIFET (Labor Advocacy Institute of East Timor) OXFAM International MSF - Baucau Caritas Australia

Jim Mellor APHEDA - Union Aid Abroad Dili, East Timor office: +(670 390) 323527 (in Dili) mobile: 0407 001 699 (from Australia) mobile: + 407 001 699 Overseas email:

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