By Fr. Gregory Minz, SVD (Divine Word Missionaries)
The JPIC (Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation) Coordinator, Timor Leste
Feature image: Dili, the capital city under water
As per the climate Timor Leste experiences rain of the wet season from November till April every year. This year Timor Leste experienced quite good rain, rivers often flooded from very beginning of the season. Last week, from beginning of this April 2021 the rain seemed pouring very often and the sky clouded. Starting from Saturday April 3, 2021 the intensity of the rain had increased. Simultaneously, the nation was also under lock down due to Covid -19 Pandemic. In the capital city of Dili itself the cases of Covid-19 were crossing 300. Since lockdown the people from different districts were held up in different other districts, movements were strictly controlled. Many students and those who stayed in rent often complained not able to access to their families and meet their basic needs. Many boarding children were not able to go back to their families and the hostel wardens worried how to meet their basic needs amidst lockdown. It was also the eve of Easter celebration many devout Catholics already in mood to celebrate the Easter. The Holy Saturday Night Vigil service was amidst the heavy rain which was intensified at midnight. Many celebrated the online Easter Vigil Mass and others were waiting for the Sunday Celebration. The usual rain was thought to be the seasonal rain. No wonder, there was no information from the weather Forecast or government sources. Thus, while the catholic majority nation was at the mood of Easter Joy the flood took place.
The Actual Natural Disaster, the Flood:
On Saturday afternoon, April 3, 2021 already there was mild sign, the intensity of rain had increased. In the night there was heavy pouring with wind which most of Timorese did not experience due to fast asleep in the night. At around 4:00 am Sunday April 4, 2021 many found themselves the flooding water had crept in inside the houses. Dili, the capital city which was worse affected, experienced electricity failure and many did not know what to do in the dark. Soon the streets found flooded, the huge trees were carried away by wild flow the rivers and dumped in the bridges. Many important bridges found choked by huge trees and water started taking different roots including on the highways of the city.
According to the e-news Neon Metin, the flood has taken 27 lives so far, 13 of them are from the the capital city Dili and rest 14 from different districts, and affected 2065 families of Timor Leste. According to the newspaper Suara Timor Lorosae 7,000 people are affected in Dili alone. The number of affected people by the flood is the highest in comparison with natural disasters of the past in Timor Leste. The families that affected the most by the natural disaster are shifted to the safer places which were offered by the government and the Church. Few others preferred to shelter themselves in private safe buildings.
People died, lost their households, belongings, people lost their relatives due to dislocation of the affected ones due to flood and continued to alarm. Most places experienced electricity failure including the networks two out of three. People were not able to communicate due to lack of networks and electricity. Many important roads connecting to different districts were damaged, bridges collapsed or almost to collapse where people did not dare to cross. Thus, the movements were not possible including the government was not able to monitor the situation in most places. The habitants staying in hills and river banks were the most affected ones. The flood caused landslide on hills and habitants were covered by the mud, and along the rivers most houses were washed away due to over flowing of river water and changing the course of the rivers.
The land was relieved a bit by evening for the water was flowed to the sea and most places were found waterless. However, the deep places still contained water. The weather forecast announced people to move from hills prone to landslide and from river banks for heavy rain is still expected till Aril 8, 2021. On April 5, 2021 night also dark clouds covered the sky and there was heavy rain for some time but it was only for time being.
Relief work aftermath the Flood:
The Government of Timor Leste continued monitoring the situation. The national hero and the former Prime Minister Mr. Xanana Gusmão gave an apt example of serving people; he visited many affected people and tried to help the situation in and around Dili, being he himself the example of service cleaning garbage and rescuing people from muddy and clay lands. He also gathered different organizations, the church authorities and well-wishers to attend the basic needs of the affected people. However, people in general and e-news condemned governments response to the situation was minimum in alerting the people and rescuing the affected during flood.
Church’s response to situation:
All over Timor Leste the church played a crucial role to save the people. Most church buildings were offered for shelter to the affected ones especially in Dili. The people gathered in the church also to meet their basic needs. Parishes and different congregations went out of their ways to cook food, give clothes and made their own convents as the shelter of the affected ones. Priests and sisters joined the national hero Mr. Xanana Gusmão and visited many affected people and do the needful giving assurance to helpless.
SVD- SSpS JPIC Response to the situation:
The SVD, Soverdi Community sheltered many neighbors. Due to power cut people in general were not able to communicate to their near and dear one in need, so supplied electricity till late night to recharge mobiles. Few of our confreres in Dili joined SSpS sisters in Sabrakalaran and supplied basic need for the affected people. Rice, curry, noodles and water was supplied to the affected ones. Some other confreres went to visit one of the most affected areas in Hera Parish and distributed food, and clothing. On April 6, 2021 Sovserdi house took relief materials to cathedral of Dili to join the diocesan JPIC. Formation house Manleuana visited many affected people in need. It also communicated through Facebook and other social media not to take few roads that were already disconnected. ICR, the institution for pastoral studies continued to take care of the boarding children in need. The Hera parish sheltered almost three thousand people during the flood.
The district of Oecusse people came for Easter Vigil mass and got held up in the parish, parish cooked food for almost 400 people for two days for rivers were still overflowing. Oesilo parish was not able to communicate due to electricity failure.
The SVD in Bobonaro district was not much flooded but our Colegio in Palaca struggled to give food to boarding children who were held up due to lock down and affected by flood. They are almost running out of food materials and few of our confreres seeked SVD intervention to the situation. SVD Batugade although at the riverbank but they were still safe. Conferrers in Maliana visited the Nunurak Bridge and the affected people. The bridge is the only bridge connecting Maliana and Balibo. The rain in Viqueque was not so much devastating. Uatucarbau Parish and Uatulari Parishes are very close to the sea, however, we are not received any news from them.