Subject: WFP: Emergency Food Aid to T-L

Also: Australia donates $1m to ease E Timor food shortage

News Release 16 September 2003


JAKARTA ­ With a two-year drought stalking the highlands of Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor), the United Nations World Food Programme today appealed for emergency food aid for 110,000 impoverished people, many of whom are resorting to eating wild foods to survive.

In order to prevent further deterioration in their health, WFP will give some 24,800 rural families a 55-kilogram monthly ration of maize or rice and beans for four months starting in November. The assistance, with a cost of U.S.$2.7 million, will come during the difficult, pre-harvest months between November and March known as the “hunger season.”

“This year, we have seen large numbers of East Timorese resorting to hunger season survival tactics much earlier and more extensively than usual,” said Indonesia Country Director Mohamed Saleheen, who recently concluded a mission to Timor-Leste to determine the severity of the food shortages.

“They are eating only one or at most two meals a day, and the meals are smaller, usually consisting of wild tubers and a porridge made from the stems of palm leaves,” Saleheen continued. “They are also selling their cattle to pay for household necessities. This is particularly true of the highland areas in the north, where there are virtually no other sources of food besides subsistence farming.”

“We saw many households where there was a complete lack of protein or cereals in what the families ate,” said Saleheen, noting that the drought led to a fall of more than 30 percent in maize production this year. He added that the WFP ration will provide them with 70 percent of their daily calorie needs.

Saleheen said that because farming families have been eating their maize seeds, they have run out of stock for the next planting season in November. However, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) will give some 12,000 farming families seeds, fertilizer and hand tools to help them through to the next harvest.

Because of the chronic food insecurity in Timor-Leste (about 40 percent of the population consumes less than the minimum 2,100 calories required a day) and widespread malnutrition (43 percent of children under five years of age are underweight and 47 percent are too short for their age), a natural disaster would badly hit an already vulnerable population, especially during the hunger season.

WFP has been following the effects of the drought on Timor-Leste since November 2002, when a food and crop assessment mission undertaken in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommended both agencies keep an eye on the tiny state, which gained independence in a 1999 referendum.

WFP began working in Timor-Leste in the violent aftermath of the referendum, supplying emergency food rations to 413,000 displaced people, about half of the total population. As order returned, WFP scaled down to 150,000 recipients in January 2001 and to 20,000 in June 2001, concentrating on giving nutritious blended food to children in orphanages, boarding schools and hospitals.

The WFP office in Timor-Leste closed on 30 June 2002, with donors to the operation giving their concurrence that the State was capable of meeting its own food needs. WFP has mobilised this new emergency operation in accordance with an assurance it gave the new government that it would return in the event of an unexpected natural disaster.

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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2002 WFP fed 72 million people in 82 countries including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world’s 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Mohamed Saleheen WFP Country Director/Indonesia Tel: + 6221 570 9004/5 e-mail: Heather Hill Regional Public Affairs Officer, Asia Tel: + 662-6554115 ext. 2020 Cell: + 661-7019208 E-mail:


Australia donates $1m to ease E Timor food shortage

Australia will donate $1 million worth of emergency food aid to East Timor, where about 100,000 people face could go hungry this summer due to a two-year drought.

The country's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says in highland areas the situation is critical.

"Although we had very good rice production in most of the country, the production of corn has been almost a complete failure because of two years of drought," he said.

"These have affected tens of thousands of people, over a 100,000 are severely malnourished."

The World Food Program is appealing to the international community for emergency food aid as thousands of families are forced to scavenge in the bush for wild roots and tubers, just to stay alive.

The World Food Program's director for East Timor, Mohamed Saleheen, says the United Nations wants donor nations including Australia to contribute 5,500 tonnes of food.

"This could be a case for a more prolonged you know need for humanitarian food assistance and until they do get some rains and some other coping mechanisms."

The parliamentary secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chris Gallus, says the situation has been made worse by recent flooding in some areas.

"It really is quite dire, we'll have people in those communities who themselves rely on assistance agriculture, they simply will not have enough to eat, a lot of those children will go hungry unless we do provide this food help," she said.

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