The leader of Fretilin, Mari Alkatiri, said on Thursday that the Timorese Government should request urgent international support, including a military cargo helicopter to reach the populations most isolated by the floods.
“One big cargo helicopter is needed because there are isolated areas in several parts of the country, with roads cut so it is not possible to supply the population by road,” said Alkatiri.
He said that the Government should have already formally declared a state of calamity to better receive national and international support, and to guarantee that this process is swift.
“We should have already formalised the requests for help. The impact of this disaster has been huge at international level, but we have not been able to manage that impact. We should gather the diplomatic corps and the UN and make that request,” he said.
“We have to detail what we need and the objective, to convince the international community to make the support available and that it will be used to really mitigate and minimize the suffering of the people”, he considered.
Alkatiri also highlighted the power supply problems in some locations, including in several ministries and structures such as Civil Protection itself, that in some cases stopped working a long time ago and has yet to be repaired.
Alkatiri met today with the United States ambassador in Dili, explaining that he has no powers or mandates to formalise requests, but he analysed with the diplomat the current urgent needs, possibly with the support of military or emergency humanitarian forces.
“It is something we need. I talked about it, because we need support. But it doesn’t have to come from the United States, because we have neighbours here who can support, Australia and New Zealand. Portugal has already offered support, but at this distance it is more complicated,” he stressed.
In relation to the impact on the city of Dili, Alkatiri said there was now a new opportunity to make corrections to urban planning and construction, recalling that a development plan had been made, with the support of the Portuguese organisation Gertil, which “was shelved”.
“In the last 13 or 14 years, planning was not respected at all”, he stressed.
Drainage, sanitation and reinforcing creeks are priorities, but it is also important to prevent people from building their houses in the same places again. “We have to quickly identify safer areas, urbanise them minimally. We can’t simply rebuild houses in areas where the water has already proven several times that it does damage”, he explained.
Equally problematic has been the fact that in many places, earth is removed from streams during floods or increased water flow, but is then left on the banks, and washed away in the next rainfall.
“When earth or sand is taken away, it shouldn’t be left in place – it’s this sand that will drag the rest away. It is a basic principle that was never respected here”, he considered.
The floods that devastated East Timor caused at least 42 deaths and more than 10,000 displaced people, according to a provisional balance sheet of the Civil Protection.