Timor - Leste - Flash report: Food shortage looms in Ainaro district

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CVTL Staff Isidoro "Zidho" Correia and Antonio Castro da Costa
In Ainaro District, about 120 kilometers south of the capital city of Dili, the villagers were looking forward to a good harvest when the winds came to blow the optimism away, spawned by stormy weather north-northwest of Australia.

From January 16 to 19, raging winds of cyclonic strength ripped through several upland and lowland villages in Ainaro, amid rolling hills overshadowed by the rugged features of Mount Kablaki and the towering Mount Ramelau -- right smack at the receiving end of the peripheral winds generated by the Australian weather disturbance.

Leaving random trails of destruction over scattered areas, the cruel winds flattened much of the corn crop and other subsistence agriculture, knocked down trees and some infrastructure, rendered livestock stressed and ailing, blew off roofs and turned many houses on their sides.

The people of Ainaro need help. Whatever else may be said of the material damage, the bigger concern is still the looming food shortage that could last until the next planting season around April and beyond, when the earth could yield the precious sustaining grains once more.

Initial findings indicated that a great deal of the damage was suffered by those living in Ainaro town proper as well as villagers in Casa, Soro, Mau-nuno, Mau-ulo and Suru-Kraik.

In the sub-district of Hato Builico, reports of possible damage were received from the villages of Nunomo Gue, Mulo and Mauchiga. Follow-up assessment teams are undertaking more extensive data gathering at the time of this report.

Upon learning of the disaster, CVTL promptly contacted the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) for close coordination.

A team from CVTL's Department of Disaster Management was dispatched to conduct the initial assessment for a disaster response. The team met with leaders of the villages as well as local government and civil society leaders to gather information.

The disaster disrupted classes in schools and reduced commercial activity in the market, among others. Electric service was also greatly affected, with debris littering sections of the roads.

Police Commandant Octavio de Araujo stated that law enforcers have been placed on the look-out for rescue situations and strict maintenance of peace and order.

In town centre of Ainaro, five siblings huddled for days in the cold after the roof of their house got blown away by the disaster, occurring as it did while their parents were away in a remote village.

Teenagers in the sub-district of Ainaro reported that the winds made piercing sounds "like F-16 fighter jets."

"At other times, the noise was angry and grumbling. It really sounded destructive," said a man in the market, where there were fewer vendors than usual one day after the winds subsided.

One vegetable vendor, Mrs. Idina Maria de Araujo, said that "the winds made fearsome noises like a helicopter landing.

"Our family could not evacuate as it was dangerous to venture out of the house. Roofing sheets were being blown this way and that. We simply sought cover under the bed."

A 10-year old boy suffered a cut on his left arm as he held up his hands to shield his face from a tin sheet torn off a nearby building.

The material difficulties faced by the hardy villagers of Ainaro, however, pale in the face of the looming food shortage with the severely curtailed reduction in the corn harvest, as well as damage to other crops like potatoes, carrots, root crops and other vegetables. Some livestock, like buffalos and other farm animals, were stressed and fell ill due to the bad weather.

"Assistance will be greatly appreciated in whatever form or manner," said CVTL Disaster Management Coordinator Luis Freitas, "but the greatest priority for now is to mitigate the looming food shortage. Food assistance is what's needed in Ainaro."

And for the longer term, perhaps CVTL and partners in the humanitarian movement can help the communities come together to consider ways of improving their disaster preparedness, as well as study the possibility of adopting changes in house construction, agricultural technology and other adjustments in consideration of the effects of wind damage to improve their quality of life.

Offers of relief and assistance may be extended to

Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL)

Bidau Santa Ana s/n, Dili, Timor-Leste.

Telephone +670.3321688 E-Mail info@cvtl.tp