According to preliminary reports from the ground, heavy flooding has affected upwards of 10,000 people and killed at least 21 in Timor-Leste, reports UN News. The majority of the affected people live in the capital Dili and parts of the city remained underwater for days afterward.
The flooding struck on Sunday, March 28th, with the majority of damage affecting Dili, the main population centre in Timor-Leste. The UN reports 76% of the affected people to reside in Dili. Major damage to homes, key infrastructures such as roads and bridges, and communications networks are reported. Large parts of the country are also still struggling to be reconnected to the electric grid.
World Food Program country director in Timor-Leste, Dageng Liu, stated that “as of Monday, about 3,000 people are sheltering in some 11 evacuation centres in Dili.” In a country of just over 1.2 million people, Dageng’s comments show how immense the scale of destruction caused by the flooding is.
Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo offered his condolences to the victims and asked government officials to coordinate the response, Stuff News reported.
To make matters worse, the floods occurred during a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. Dili was placed under lockdown on the 8th of March due to a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. At the time of writing, there are 485 active recorded infections in Timor-Leste and the country recently reported its first death from the virus.
In a country where lockdowns have a huge impact on the livelihoods of citizens, the impact of the flooding has proven to be a crisis magnifier. The UN mission in Timor-Leste reports that the “national medical storage facility was heavily flooded and many medical supplies damaged or washed away.”
Meanwhile, the UN news agency reported a COVID-19 isolation facility had to be evacuated temporarily and the national laboratory was also affected by the floods. In a country with health infrastructure that is still developing, these damages may prove detrimental to pandemic response efforts.
There are also concerns that people affected by the flooding will not be able to maintain social distancing while in evacuation centres, risking the further spread of the virus.
While seasonal flooding is a common occurrence throughout the region, these floods are anecdotally being referred to as some of the worst in living memory. Social media shows widespread damage to homes, vehicles, and livelihoods. The floods were caused by tropical cyclone Seroja.
UN aid efforts are underway with UN news reporting that UN agencies are delivering “food, safe drinking water, temporary bedding material, personal protection equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizers, and have set up mobile toilets at four of the evacuation centres.”