By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) is working with the government to help repair homes damaged by flash floods a month ago, which killed over 40 and forced thousands to flee to safety.
Father Leandro Maria Alves, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Timor (CET), said the effort was being carried out directly by both the conference and other Church institutions. He said the CET did not build complete houses but helped buy building equipment. "So far, according to the available funds, we can only target to allocate aid funds for around 15 houses," he told UCA News on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Church's social arm Caritas is targeting to help build 58 houses, of which 10 were heavily damaged, 23 moderately and 25 slightly. Father Alves said the effort was part of the implementation of the bishops' commitment to accompany flood victims during their difficult times. Five children whose mothers died will be sent to the Church-run orphanage.
Torrential rains from 29 March to 4 April, Easter Sunday, brought by tropical cyclone Seroja caused 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. A total of 41 deaths have been recorded in Timor-Leste and 181 in Indonesia.
Fr. Alves pointed out that since the floods, Archbishop Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva of Dili has reached out to the victims, personally distributing aid to them. The bishops’ conference is continuing to provide logistical assistance for the victims. The CET official pointed out that with around $50,000 that they have allocated, they have reached out to 15,000 people in food aid, clothing and other essentials. Apart from CET funds, they have also obtained funds from donors, including Timorese who work abroad.
Meanwhile, Father Angelo Salshina from the social services division of Dili Archdiocese said they had provided special assistance for victims whose families had died. “Currently, there are five children whose mothers died who will be sent to the church-owned orphanage. For the time being, they are living in a community of nuns in Dili," he told UCA News.
The Church is moving in line with the government's efforts, starting with the recovery of homes of residents and repairing badly damaged infrastructure. Miguel Perreira de Carvalho, minister of state and administration, said 25,000 families are in need of home repairs out of 33,177 families affected by the disaster. Around 24,000 houses were slightly damaged, 553 were moderately damaged and 554 were severely damaged," he told journalists after meeting with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak on May 4. He said President Francisco Guterres has approved a budget of $55 million for the repairs.
Most of those displaced in Dili are returning home, but according to the latest reports by the United Nations, 3,925 people, or 799 households, are still at 25 evacuation facilities in the capital. The disaster also damaged 2,163 hectares of agricultural land, which will impact food security during the next lean season.
Prior to the floods, the government had been able to contain the spread of Covid-19. Timor-Leste kicked off its vaccination campaign on April 7. The country is currently experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic, with record highs in the number of cases and 4 deaths so far. It reported its first death on March 21. There are currently 1,315 active cases in the country. Several health measures in place, including a mandatory lockdown in Dili.
Australia on May 5 provided an initial delivery of 20,000 vaccines to Timor-Leste as its support for the country’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout. It has also sent further medical supplies to support the country’s pandemic response.
An overwhelmingly Catholic country, Timor-Leste, which regained its independence from Indonesia in 2002, is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Some 95 percent of its 1.3 million people are Catholic. (Source: UCA News)