Assisting IDP camps in Timor-Leste

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CVTL Staff Antonio Castro da Costa and Michael Johansson

Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL), whose banner sports the Red Cross emblem enclosed within a shield outlined in red, is a familiar presence at many temporary camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in East Timor.

As the national humanitarian auxilliary in Timor-Leste, CVTL is at the forefront of humanitarian response in times of crisis or emergency.

The present IDP situation in the country may be traced to the sacking of a third of the country's defense forces in March 2006, which exacerbated "loromonu-lorosae" east-west cultural divisions within the security forces, and spilled over into clashes among street gangs and martial arts youth groups in the national capital, Dili.

The violence eventually caused waves of displaced families to flee in the thousands for the safety and shelter of numerous IDP camps and into the districts.

One such camp that CVTL serves through the inter-agency Site Liaison Support (SLS) program is located at the so-called Bombeiros compound in Caicoli, Dili, the central headquarters of the Timor-Leste Firefighting Service.

Adolfo Da Silva Araujo, the 48-year old camp manager, disclosed that, at the outset, water and sanitation was a major issue, as the compound did not have the capacity to serve as temporary shelter for a big number of families.

However, with prompt response from CVTL to coordinate actions from the inter-agency working group to address the problem, the situation improved markedly even if the temporary habitat arrangements were far from perfect.

For example, the compound's septic tank had broken down and dirty water needed to be drained away from the camp site, so CVTL made representations with Unicef as one of its sectoral working group partners on the water-sanitation issue.

Cooperative effort between CVTL and Unicef restored the septic tank to working order, and CVTL has provided chlorine powder to purify the water supply for this camp.

Members of the Water and Sanitation Working Group continue with ongoing activities, such as trucking in water and monitoring water quality, cleaning septic tanks, promoting health and hygiene and generally sustaining the maintenance of water and sanitation facilities in the IDP camps.

These services are a collaborative effort of CVTL, Unicef, National Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation (DNAS), World Vision, Plan, Oxfam, HealthNet, CARE, Concern, CRS and the New Zealand Embassy.

Camp Manager Da Silva also promotes self-help initiatives among the Bombeiros staff and IDP beneficiaries staying in the camp, which happens to be situated in a swampy part of the city.

With encouragement and support from CVTL, improvised drainage canals were dug along the peripheries of the individual tents, which served to channel excess water (especially during the rainy season) away from the living areas and into the public drainage system, thus minimizing, even if not completely preventing, the undesirable effects of localized flooding and unsanitary conditions.

Imaculada Maia De Jesus, a housewife, with her children, six-year old Mary Mackellop, Letisia Castro, 2 years old, and one-year old Livania Maia, are staying in one of the IDP tents at Bombeiros. She has seen the small improvements that make life a little more bearable, though she would earnestly want to go back to her home in the Mascarinhas area of Dili.

"Staying in the IDP camp, even if just on a temporary basis, is something we have to do because of the risk to our safety, which has not abated," Imaculada says. "We hope we can go back home soon."

"But in spite of the difficulties in the camp, we are grateful that there is the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies coming to our assistance. Living conditions here could be better, of course, but we have no complaints. We are very grateful. We pray for CVTL to continue its mission to help persons in need, especially in emergencies."

CVTL's emergency response action at Bombeiros included the provision of relief supplies to the IDPs that, during the outset, were still awaiting the rice distribution from the government's Ministeriu Trabalhu Reinsersaun Comunitaria (MTRC, Ministry of Labour and Community Re-insertion) to get underway.

The IDPs at the time numbered 44 families comprising 280 people, mostly from Becora in the eastern part of Dili, from Caicoli at the west side, and from nearby Mascarinhas and other places. At present, there are 19 families and approximately 95 IDPs still staying at Bombeiros.

The initial relief items from CVTL included hygiene kits, sugar, biscuits Milna, bottled drinking water and BP-5 biscuits with support from Alola Foundation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) delegations in Dili.

A CVTL volunteer, Hermenegildo Cardoso Rente, who was involved in many of the relief distribution as well as assessment activities in the camp, said that the experience moved him deeply. "It also exposed us, as a volunteers in humanitarian service, to valuable lessons learned in providing emergency assistance to vulnerable communities, to serve with compassion while preserving the dignity of our beneficiaries," he added.

Hermenegildo asserted that he is now better trained and can apply his CVTL experience when there comes another opportunity to volunteer for relief distribution and assessment work.

Even though it has been less than two years since CVTL was officially welcomed to the worldwide Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, the national society is eager to take an active role in addressing the various humanitarian needs in the world's youngest but still struggling nation.

"Like our country, we face various obstacles like shortage of skilled manpower and the severe lack of resources," says Isabel Amaral Guterres, Secretary General of CVTL, "but we are rich in determination and the support of our partners in the humanitarian movement gives us the strength to move forward, from one small achievement to the next.

"It is because of our selfless volunteers that we are able to overcome disasters and emergencies, to save lives, to improve lives.

"Our firm hope is that, someday, a person we may have helped in the past will step forward and add himself or herself to the growing ranks of our CVTL volunteers. When that happens, then all our hardship and struggle will not be in vain. Hopefully, with lasting peace in our country, scenes of IDP camps and temporary tent cities will be a thing of the past."