Floods and landslides cripple parts of East Timor

East Timor’s capital, Dili, has been badly battered by torrential rain, floods and landslides with dozens of people dead, thousands more displaced and more bad weather to come.

 

Peter Goodfellow is the country director for Care Australia in East Timor and he joins Leigh Sales to discuss the worsening crisis.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Peter Goodfellow, can you please give us a sense of the scale of the devastation there?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW, CARE AUSTRALIA: Sure, yeah, over the weekend the country saw some of its heaviest rains in the last 50 years and Dili, the capital, was inundated with water.

 

Most neighbourhoods in the city were submerged and currently around 1,500 families are sheltering in temporary evacuation sites.

 

LEIGH SALES: Does the city have the kind of infrastructure needed firstly to deal with those people but also to deliver medical care and to begin any sort of clean up?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: Yes, it does. It’s a well-developed city and those facilities do exist.

What’s happened has been the roads were inaccessible on Sunday and so there’s been a big effort to ensure that rescue teams can get to the right places and that people can access evacuation sites and get out of unsafe buildings.

 

LEIGH SALES: Given that inaccessibility, do you think that we have a full picture yet of what has occurred?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: The data is still coming in and it’s not just Dili, but it is also from other parts of the country.

So we’re building up a picture and there’s a daily coordination, briefings by government and aid agencies such as Care and other organisations and the UN are attending those and providing support as best we can.

 

LEIGH SALES: Unfortunately, there’s further bad weather expected this week. How well is the country prepared for that or otherwise?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: The government has a well-planned disaster management mechanism and so at a municipal level those groups are prepared for emergencies.

One of the challenges at the moment is that we have a COVID-19 outbreak that has really just been kicking off in the last couple of months and so it’s really a concern where we have two or even three natural disasters happening at the same time that is a major worry for humanitarian agencies.

 

LEIGH SALES: And is the vaccine rollout going on over there?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: Actually, we received the first shipment of COVAX vaccines yesterday. So we’re expecting front-line health workers to be vaccinated soon.

 

LEIGH SALES: What if anything, at this point, can Australia do to help?

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: Well, look, we’re particularly concerned about the needs of vulnerable groups, particularly women, children and people with a disability and so we believe it is really important to start by consulting and listening to those groups and designing a response around their needs.

We know that in addition to the essential items of food, shelter and water, there are also needs for protection for women and safe spaces for children to play and ensuring that people that do suffer violence are aware of the services that are available to them.

 

LEIGH SALES: Peter Goodfellow, thank you very much.

 

PETER GOODFELLOW: Thank you.

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