The United Nations food agency today appealed for emergency aid for 110,000 impoverished people in Timor-Leste, many of whom are resorting to eating wild foods to survive the two-year drought stalking the highlands.
“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,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Indonesia Country Director Mohamed Saleheen said, following a recent assessment mission to Timor-Leste.
Mr. Saleheen said people were resorting to “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.”
WFP said it fears a natural disaster could badly hit an already vulnerable population, especially during the difficult pre-harvest months between November and March. Timor-Leste suffers chronic food insecurity with about 40 per cent of the population consuming less than the minimum 2,100 calories a day required.
In order to prevent further deterioration, 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, amounting to $2.7 million. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) will give some 12,000 farming families seeds, fertilizer and hand tools to help them through to the next harvest.
In other news, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) today handed over policing responsibilities in Baucau district to local authorities. During the ceremony to mark the hand-over, the deputy UN envoy to Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, reminded the local officers that their newly acquired authority comes with great responsibilities.
“[This process requires] commitment and determination by each and every one of you, and I ask you to take up this challenge and achieve ultimately the goal of a professional and impartial police force,” he said.
Mr. Hasegawa said UNMISET would continue to work closely with the local administration and UN technical advisers would remain in the district, the twelfth to be handed over by the UN. Only one other area, Dili, remains under UN police control. The handover is scheduled for next January.