By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is on the frontline of bringing relief to the victims of the floods caused by the torrential rains that in recent days have hit the tiny Southeast Asian nation and the neighbouring provinces of Indonesia.
Heavy rains across the country from 29 March to 4 April caused by tropical cyclone Seroja have triggered devastating flash floods and landslides in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and in Timor-Leste. A total of 8 municipalities were affected in Timor-Leste, with the capital Dili and the surrounding low-lying areas the worst affected. In Indonesia, the province of East Nusa Tenggara has been hardest hit.
Church joins humanitarian agencies
Citing official figures from the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Timor-Leste said that a total of 42 deaths were officially registered as of Wednesday, including 13 who are still missing and presumed dead. The office of Roy Trivedy, UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste, said that a total of 2,375 households – or 9,779 people – were in the 18 official evacuation facilities in Dili. There were many more displaced – including women and children - in informal evacuation sites across the city.
Many of the displaced have found refuge in church facilities. About 2,000 are currently being sheltered in a center run by the Salesians in Comoro, on the outskirts of Dili, and another 7,000 are being assisted in the parish of the Immaculate Conception in the capital.
The Timorese Episcopal Conference (CET) has mobilized all priests and religious to meet the most immediate needs. "We urgently need food and clothes," Father Angelo Salshina, head of the special pastoral task force for Covid-19 in the Archdiocese of Dili, told UCANEWS.
Covid-19 restrictions relaxed
In a meeting with the Civil Protection, Prime Minister Taun Matan Ruak thanked all the organizations involved in the relief efforts, including religious organizations. The government has ordered a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions to facilitate relief operations and the transport of materials for the reconstruction of homes. In addition to the flood emergency, in recent weeks East Timor has had to deal with a surge in Coronavirus cases - after a long period of zero infections - which have prompted the authorities to reintroduce the lockdown from 3 April to 2 May in the three main cities of the country: Dili, Baucau and Viqueque.
The Timorese Church has also been mobilized on this front since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, through its special task force that provides material and psychological help to the most vulnerable, and is actively engaged in informing and raising awareness among the population.
The Rapid Site Assessment conducted on 5/6 April by a joint UN team identified urgent needs in the evacuation centres such as water, sanitation, hygiene, food, non-food items and medicine. The nutrition situation of temporary displaced children under the age of five, and pregnant and lactating mothers is emerging as an increasing concern. There is also concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 at these sites.
The small Asian state, which regained its independence from Indonesia in 2002, has a population of about 1.3 million inhabitants, 95% of whom are Catholics.