Timor Emergency Update 17 Dec 1999

The World Bank has called a meeting of more than twenty countries in Tokyo this week to discuss the reconstruction of East Timor. Oxfam sent a representative to East Timor in the leadup to the meeting to coordinate and consult with local and international non- government organisations working in East Timor on needs of the East Timorese. Oxfam's representatives will focus in the meeting on the need for both quantity and quality of aid, as well as on the impact of aid on the East Timorese community. Oxfam wants to ensure that aid is appropriate to the East Timorese and meets their needs in ways that are gender and culture sensitive. Revitalising and supporting East Timorse civil society is the most effective way to ensure that development is appropriate and stays in the hands of the East Timorese in the long term.

While in East Timor, the Oxfam representative also held forums for all agencies to discuss gender issues, and ensuring that both women and men and benefitting from the overall humanitarian response. Oxfam's program counterparts in East Timor, including human rights organisations Yayasan Hak and Fokupers, are playing important roles, providing witnesses and evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in East Timor.


Repatriation of East Timorese from West Timor continues, however the flow of returnees has slowed, depending on the degree of harassment and intimidation by the militia. Collapsed road and bridges due to the heavy rains that have come with the wet season are creating new problems for the resettlement and relief of returnees. To date, 115,919 East Timorese have returned to East Timor from eleven active fronts. About two thirds of these returns are large-scale organised movements, while the remainder are from spontaneous repatriation.

Dili remains relatively calm, with no major security incidents to report. INTERFET has now reclassified Dili from a medium to a low level risk zone.


Oxfam International now has an office in Dili, and the Oxfam International office in Darwin continues to provide important logistical back up for work in both East and West Timor. UN agencies have coordinated the division of all major tasks involved in the emergency response between the various aid agencies. As the lead agency in the water and sanitation sector, Oxfam International have organized and participated in almost all activities in preparation for a mass return of East Timorese deportees from West Timor. Bottled water is being made available to returnees at border crossing points in Ambeno, the East Timorese enclave in West Timor, and at other points along the border.

The other primary area of Oxfam's emergency program activities in East Timor is public health and vector control (control of the spread of disease, primarily malaria and diarrhoea). An entomologist is working on malaria control, preparation is being done for the prevention of dengue fever, diarrhoea and scabies, and five local environmental health officers have joined the team in East Timor to mobilise local communities to work on sanitation activities. A public health assessment team recently returned from Same, Airnaro and Bobonaro, indicating that while in urban locations the public health situation is improving, there are real concerns about the conditions in transit camps along the roadside.

In the leadup to the wet season, which has now begun, the efforts of Oxfam community mobilisers in Dili were scaled up for drain and rubbish clearance in the city. Community mobilisation has been high, and drain clearance activities have increased at the request of local East Timorese communities. In particular, Oxfam's activities have been greatly assisted by the participation of local women's groups in places like Suai. Oxfam also recently conducted a training workshop for local East Timorese community leaders in conjunction with agency Action Contre Le Faim in the area of public health. Many schools in the area reopened in mid-November; Oxfam distributed tarpaulins for use in makeshift schools, as many previously-used building have been destroyed. Recent movements out of the Oxfam warehouse in Dili include the distribution of more than 15,000 mosquito nets in Dili, Suai and Maliano, more than 1,500 tarpaulins and more than 20,000 bars of soap. The water and sanitation facilities at Dili market were recently assessed, and water facilities in Liquica, Maliana, Ambeno and Suai have all been improved.

An Oxfam International team was recently sent into the East Timorese Enclave of Ambeno (in West Timor) to assess the environmental health circumstances and water supply. Oxfam staff have been involved in mobilising local people to dig latrines, and have chlorinated wells and installed a tap system to ensure clean and safe water for the 12,000 displaced people now located in Ambeno.


The numbers of displaced people in West Timor reduced to approximately 170,000 by late November. However, the living conditions in the camps are reported to be poor and with a growing problem of malnutrition.

The displaced populations in West Timor are highly dispersed. They are found in the centre of towns or isolated villages. Some live in tented camps and makeshift huts while others live in "barracks" built by the government. While the nature of this displacement reduces the risk of spread of diseases that are common to congested camps, it can inhibit the effective delivery of services to the refugee sites. Accessibility to the camps is also difficult due to the poor conditions of the roads and the rains.

Oxfam's West Timor program is focussing on public health and water, particularly in the remaining camps in Soe and Kefamenanu. , where water and sanitation systems are being set up in three camps, where over 12,000 of the refugees remain.


Oxfam is seeking expert Australia-based staff in a range of areas for our Emergencies Relief Register, for short-term deployment to our emergency programs in both East and West Timor and the Balkans. Applicants must have experience in international emergency programs. Some of the positions we are now recruiting for include Program and Project Managers, Office Managers, Accountants, Logisticians, Public Health Engineers and Hygiene Promoters. Find out more.

Find out more at: http://www.caa.org.au/world/asia/east_timor/appeal.html