Timor-Leste UN expands food aid to tens of thousand displaced by recent violence
“Recent events have shaken the food security of the entire country,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Representative Tarek Elguindi said of the small South-East Asian nation that the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.
Some 145,000 people, about 15 per cent of the total population, have been forced to flee their homes and at least 37 people killed since fighting broke out in late April after the dismissal of nearly 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces.
“We expect the lean season will come earlier in Timor Leste this year,” Mr. Elguindi said. “The recent unrest has placed an added burden on a country already suffering from widespread nutritional deficiencies. WFP calls on its donors and partners to help quickly, to prevent any further suffering.”
WFP is already providing fortified blended food, oil and sugar to 60,000 displaced people living in sites in and around Dili, the capital, in addition to government rice rations. It is now expanding operations beyond the capital to reach 78,000 people outside Dili, starting with over 30,000 people in Ermera, Manatutu and Baucau districts in the coming days.
In total, the Agency has provided assistance to over 82,000 people since the civil unrest began.
A recent WFP food security assessment also determined a need for food aid among families who remained in their homes in Dili, with markets and transport networks slow to re-open.
In response, the Agency will start providing supplementary food to 15,000 children under five and pregnant and lactating women, in cooperation with the government, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-government organizations.
In Geneva today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan reiterated that what had happened “is rather a great disappointment for all of us” after the world body set up the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET) in 1999 following the country’s vote for independence from Indonesia, which had taken over after Portugal’s withdrawal in 1974.
“I do foresee a strengthened UN mission in Timor-Leste in the future,” he told reporters, adding that UN Special Envoy Ian Martin would be leading an assessment team to discuss the issue with the authorities.
If the Security Council agrees, the UN operation would work alongside the international forces provided by Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal that are already there at the Government’s request.
“Whether it will contain only police and people who are able to build institutions, work with them on elections and on governance issues, or military, will be for the Council to decide,” Mr. Annan added.
UNTAET maintained a robust structure until independence was attained in 2002, when it was replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). This in turn was succeeded by the current, even smaller UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).