Subject: AU: E Timorese may starve in months: UN

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E Timorese may starve in months: UN By Natasha Bita, Florence and John Kerin


STARVING East Timorese may be forced to eat rats, cats and dogs unless they receive food aid within six months, the UN warned in its first report on the food crisis on Australia's doorstep.

The UN's Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Program said yesterday 150,000 residents of East Timor ­ at least one in every six people ­ did not have enough to eat.

A two-year drought, combined with subsistence farming and a depleted fishing fleet, meant the East Timorese needed 14,000 tonnes of donated rice, wheat and other cereals by summer.

A UN investigation team sent to interview the locals in April reported one of the "coping mechanisms" for East Timorese facing "medium to high-severity" hunger was to eat rodents, cats, dogs, horses and seeds.

In less serious cases, they hunted wildlife such as monkeys and tree kangaroos, logged rainforests illegally to sell firewood and pulled their children out of school.

As Defence Minister Robert Hill revealed yesterday that Australia would halve its almost 1000-strong peacekeeping force by the end of the year, the UN report said UNICEF had found 12 per cent of East Timorese children younger than five were "moderately to severely wasted", half were moderately or severely stunted, and 43 per cent were moderately or severely underweight.

Chief of the FAO's Global Information and Early Warn ing System, Henri Josserand, described East Timor's food shortage as "serious and in some cases severe".

"Starvation to the point of dying would be rare but there is a risk people would suffer greatly as people are weakened to the point they are susceptible to disease," he said in Rome yesterday.

"If Australia finds that it has ways to make food available, East Timor could certainly use that."

© The Australian

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