FAO/GIEWS - Foodcrops & Shortages 1-2/00 - East Timor

Violence following the referendum for independence at the end of August last year, resulted in large numbers of deaths and massive population displacement. It also severely affected food distribution and marketing systems and essential services. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission last November, however, noted that although infrastructure and property damage was extensive, agricultural damage was less severe as crops had already been harvested and only relatively minor second season crop were damaged. The mission also noted that notwithstanding the importance of food assistance in the months between November 1999 and March this year when harvesting of main crops commences, the overall food supply prospects in the medium to long term (the 2000/2001 marketing year April/March) are less gloomy than envisaged at the height of the crisis following the referendum.

In addition to reinstating food production, considerable amount still needs to be done in repairing infrastructure and inducing recovery in the economy. Although an international agreement amongst key donor countries was reached late last year to provide US $ 522 million in aid, reports indicate that relatively little has been disbursed so far.

Of the original population of some 900 000 people before the crisis, it is estimated that up to 174 000 still remain in refugee camps in West Timor. UNICEF estimates that around 24 percent of refugee children in camps in border areas are suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition, whilst four percent were severely malnourished. The prevalence of diarrhoea and respiratory infection among young children is also reported to be high.

In addition to food aid, as part of the consolidated UN Interagency Appeal for East Timor, FAO has prepared a number of initiatives to rehabilitate agriculture and food production. These include the distribution of urgently needed maize and paddy seed last planting season and the deployment of an agricultural expert to assist the Emergency Coordination Unit in Dili to monitor the situation and advise on needed interventions in agriculture. An important initiative already advocated is the establishment of a seed multiplication programme to provide high quality seed to future returnees and to strengthen the quality of indigenous seed stock.