Flood-affected families in a remote part of East Timor are so short of food that they are eating only one meal a day, a Red Cross disaster assessment team has found.
Some 400 people in two villages devastated by flash floods and landslides in late December, have resorted to emergency approaches like mixing ground palm tree fibre with food, says Olav Ofstad of the International Federation, which is helping the East Timor Red Cross respond to the crisis.
The two villages, Meligo and Atudara, in Maliana district in the southeast of the country, saw nine houses totally swept away and seven more damaged when a sudden flood swept through the area on December 17.
"Even though there were no deaths, the flood was quite traumatic. Some people, with water up to their chests, fought to save themselves and their families," says Ofstad, who returned from an assessment of the situation in Maliana at the weekend. "The floods also washed away livestock and pets such as dogs, chickens, goats and pigs."
Some of the families affected lost everything - including the fields, crops, animals, seeds and agricultural tools that provided their food supplies and only income.
"Most people in this inland area are subsistence farmers, living off rice, corn and vegetables," adds Ofstad.
The East Timor government's National Disaster Management Office distributed food to 26 families on December 23, but supplies have now run out. The next distribution is not until January 19 and there is little opportunity of finding other sources of nourishment in the meantime.
The Red Cross estimates that people will need food for three months until they can start harvesting rice again. They will also need seeds for planting for future rice and vegetable crops.
The East Timor Red Cross (CVTL) has already responded by providing family kits and second hand clothes and is planning to launch a local radio campaign to collect clothes.
And it has also sent Red Cross water and sanitation experts to the area, where cases of diarrhoea indicate that drinking water may have been contaminated. In addition, the Red Cross will also monitor the villages' health needs and have already signalled to authorities the need for psychological assistance for the flood victims.
The East Timor Red Cross is also looking into providing construction material and assisting with reconstruction of nine houses on higher ground.
"The villages are extremely vulnerable. The area has been flooded before, but not as dramatically as this time. The exposed area has two riverbeds and one creek, all of which contributed to the disaster. The two riverbeds are very shallow and future floods must be expected," Ofstad explains.