|Subject: Wet Season to Create Crisis
November 21, 2006 Tuesday
EAST TIMOR WET SEASON 'TO CREATE CRISIS'
Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in East Timor as the wet season approaches and thousands remain living in makeshift camps around the capital Dili.
Dr Nelson said the East Timorese government needs to move quickly with United Nations assistance to relocate the camp residents to better facilities, but it remains a difficult job.
"I am very concerned that we have an imminent humanitarian crisis evolving with the internally displaced persons in the camps," he said.
"Once the rains start it will become a mudbath.
"People will have to be relocated and then under the most difficult circumstances."
During civil unrest in May and June, thousands fled their homes to the safety of camps established mostly in the grounds of Christian missions and at the Dili airport.
Despite the best efforts of East Timorese and UN authorities, many have stayed on, refusing to return to homes looted and burned in what they see as unsafe neighbourhoods wracked by gang violence.
At one stage there was an estimated 100,000 people living in camps.
How many remain is unclear but it is still substantial.
Dr Nelson, in Timor to visit Australian troops and to assess the situation on the ground, met East Timor's Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta and acting UN special representative Finn Reske-Nielson.
Dr Nelson said he discussed the issue of the camps with Mr Reske-Nielson.
He said some of the camps were in low-lying areas and would be flooded in the rainy season creating a health and disease crises.
The rains could start at any time but even at the most optimistic that might not happen until the end of next month, he said.