The heavy rains across Timor-Leste from 29 March to 4 April 2021 have resulted in flash floods and landslides across all 13 municipalities in the country, with the capital Dili and surrounding low-lying areas the worst affected. A total of 44 fatalities (including 14 missing, presumed dead) have been recorded, 20 of which were recorded in Dili municipality. In recognition of the magnitude of the disaster impacts, on 8 April, the Government declared a state of calamity in Dili for a period of 30 days and called for international assistance.
According to the latest official figures (19 May), a total of 33,835 households have been affected by the floods across all 13 municipalities. Of which, 81.6% – or 27,622 households – are in Dili municipality. According to the latest figures (24 May) from the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection, there are a total of 12 evacuation centers in Dili, where 1,541 people are temporarily sheltered. In the first days after the disaster, this number was considerably higher with 15,876 people in the evacuation centers at their peak. The majority of those who were temporarily displaced have returned to their houses. However, there continues to be residual humanitarian needs amongst the affected population.
Extensive damages were reported to houses, buildings (including health facilities and COVID-19 quarantine and isolation centers), public infrastructure and agricultural land. The Government’s preliminary assessment findings indicate that 33,835 houses across all municipalities were destroyed or damaged. A total of 2,163 hectares of agricultural areas were affected and the irrigation system was extensively damaged, which could negatively impact food security during the next lean season (November 2021 to February 2022).
This disaster comes at a time when the country has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent months, with Dili municipality in strict lockdown since 9 March. The temporary displacement of people poses a threat to further spread of COVID19 as well as outbreaks of water-borne and vectorborne diseases, which would put a further strain on Timor-Leste’s already over-stretched, fragile health system.
The Government of Timor-Leste - through the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection together with other ministries - is leading the humanitarian response. The authorities quickly ramped up search, rescue and evacuation operations and provided shelter, food and emergency supplies to the flood-affected people. They also immediately began clearing debris and restoring infrastructure to re-establish road transport and to resume electricity and water supplies. The Government made an initial allocation of USD 1.5 million from the 2021 State Budget for the flood response to cover the Government response for a period of three months (April to June 2021). By 12 April, the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection developed a Flood Response Strategy, setting priorities for weeks 1 to 3 (4-24 April) of the emergency response. To date, the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection has distributed: 317.5 MT of rice, 104 MT of other food items and over 18 MT worth of non-food items. It has reached 12,197 floodaffected households across all municipalities.
In support of Government efforts, the humanitarian partners have been responding jointly to address the lifesaving needs of the affected people, in particular the vulnerable groups including women, children and persons with disabilities (PwDs). As a part of the 2020-2021 joint UN-NGOs La Niña preparedness planning, UN agencies had pre-positioned relief supplies in the UN compound, which enabled rapid response. With the support of donors, humanitarian partners have repurposed existing resources and mobilized additional resources through corporate emergency response funds to kick-start multisectoral emergency relief efforts, primarily in Dili, to augment the Government response.
The Secretariat of State for Civil Protection and the Ministry of State Administration - supported by humanitarian partners – conducted a rapid needs assessment immediately following the disaster. The Humanitarian Partners Group – composed of UN agencies, international and national NGOs, Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and donor representatives – also supported respective line ministries with sector-specific assessments such as in health, nutrition, and education sectors in the first weeks of disaster onset. A joint UN team also conducted rapid site assessment (Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM)) on 5 and 6 April to identify priority needs in evacuation centers in Dili.
Less than one week into the response, the Government and the humanitarian partners began to reach the flood-affected communities marooned in Tasi Tolu, a protected area 8 kilometers west of Dili, with life-saving assistance, including access to safe water and provision of food and non-food items. The humanitarian partners also started to support flood-affected households in municipalities outside of Dili. The Secretariat of State for Civil Protection further launched three needs assessments on 13 April, supported by UN agencies and NGOs, to assess (1) needs in evacuation facilities to prepare for the return process, (2) multi-sectoral damage and needs at the village level, and (3) damage and needs at the household level.
On 23 April, the National Parliament approved the amendment to the 2021 General State Budget to respond to the impact of COVID-19 and the flooding, which was subsequently promulgated by the President on 4 May. The allocation to the COVID-19 Fund increased from USD 31 million to USD 287.6 million, while the Contingency Fund allocation increased from USD 23.8 million to USD 65.2 million. The allocation from the Contingency Fund will be utilized for infrastructure recovery in flood-affected communities.
During the Emergency Development Partners’ Meeting called by the Government on 13 April, the Government and the humanitarian partners agreed on the need for a strongly coordinated floods response, under the leadership of the Government. The 2021 Timor-Leste Flood Response Plan, therefore, is positioned as a tool to facilitate a continued coordinated flood response by the Government and the humanitarian partners (incl. donors), focusing on the coming 7 months (end May – end December) to address the residual humanitarian and early recovery needs of the most vulnerable, affected people. Once the findings of a more comprehensive assessment of damages and losses become available, the Government and partners may consider developing a medium-term recovery plan in line with the Government’s commitment to Build Back Better.