Subject: ABC: Drought hampers recovery effort

EAST TIMOR: Drought hampers recovery effort 28/02/2003 21:43:01 | Asia Pacific Programs


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The drought may be finally breaking in Australia, but in East Timor continuing drought is causing severe problems. A number of children have already died and the current weather conditions are hampering the recovery effort in several parts of the country.


PARKER: Suai, the capital of Cova Lima District on the south-west border between East and West Timor is enduring a long path to independence. In 1999, two days after the announcement that almost 80 percent of East Timorese had voted in favour of independence local militia with Indonesian army and police attacked hundreds of villagers seeking refuge in the Our Lady Fatima Church. At least 50 people were killed with some eye witnesses reporting more than 200 dead. Now, more than 2 years later Suai is again suffering casualities, this time at the hands of mother nature. Sheryl Hazel, a volunteer funded by a Melbourne City Council and managed by Australian Volunteers International has been working as an international advisor for a new Suai community committee since late last year. She has seen first hand the effects of the drought.

HAZEL: People haven't got food and conversations with the Health Department here indicated that a number of children have died the last couple of weeks of malnutrition, even more children have had to have been taken up to Dili for more intensive care

PARKER: Mr Agio Perera, President Xanana Gusmao's Chief of Staff says the government is aware of the problem.

PERERA: Yes, in Suai, Cova Lima district, especially at the South Coast, dry arid areas, a drought has been registered, and because there hasn't been any rain since May last year. As a result, the population has been eating, whatever they can collect in nature, and especially they've been taking advantage of the existing sago ... extracted from palm trees. But the sago is not good for children

PARKER: While weather has been one of the contributing factors, Sheryl Hazel believes the legacy of the post-ballot violence has deepened the effects of the drought.

HAZEL: The absolute destruction of this country in 1999 has left people without a store of resources... without a surplus of seed that they might fall back on, so what's happened is that people planted their seed, expected to get more seed when they harvest their crop but of course the crop haven't come to fruit and they have no more seed to plant

PARKER: As a newly independent nation, the East Timorese government is keen to solve the situation in Suai without direct foreign aid. The Ministry of Internal Administration has set up a special food reserve with the Office of the President, delivering food supplies to Suai. The new adminstration is aware of the difficulty in responding quickly to this kind of situation but according to Mr Perera the government hopes community commitees like those in Suai will improve drought relief management.

PERERA: It is very difficult, for instance for the next three months, these areas will suffer alot but if we take the right measures after three months they can collect some food. In the meantime, they need this emergency response, that needs to be well coordinated to help them overcome these barriers that we hope are temporary. But the structural problems like capacity to produce tractors availability, buffaloes, and manpower need to be resolved so that these situations don't happen again.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

28/02/2003 21:43:01 | Asia Pacific Programs

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