One week on from cyclone in Timor-Leste

Children and families struggle to recover

UNICEF Timor-Leste
One week on from cyclone in Timor-Leste, children and families struggle to recover 1
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Gomes
15 April 2021

UNICEF is supporting flood-affected families across the capital Dili, including in evacuation centers.

It has been a tough week for thousands of people living across Timor-Leste. A week after heavy rains brought on by a cyclone and resulting flooding and mudslides, hundreds of families have continued to remain in evacuation shelters, live under tents or hastily set up shelters, or struggle to recover lost items. 

To date, there have been 46 reported deaths, several missing and at least 25,000 affected by floods or landslides. 

“My husband and I had to carry our children through deep water in the pouring rain and darkness to rescue them from the flood waters,” said Leila Sarmento Lima from the Tasi Tolu or three lakes neighbourhood in Dili. She now stays with her four children in one of the evacuation centers. “We want to return home, but our house remains flooded.”

One week on from cyclone in Timor-Leste, children and families struggle to recover 2
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Gomes
Leila Sarmento Lima from Tasi Tolu village with her children at the evacuation site in Tasi Tolu, Dili Municipality.

Dozens of houses remain submerged in the Tasi Tolu area. Flood waters have also submerged or contaminated wells. Hundreds of families living in three villages on the hills overlooking the picturesque lakes remain cut off from health centers, schools, markets and drinking water sources. Mudslides added to the destruction, damaging houses along the steep hillsides. 

Twenty-four-year old nursing student Juliao da Cruz Castelhano woke up from a deep sleep around four a.m. on 4 April 2021, his mattress soaked and most of his other belongings in knee-deep water. Today, Juliano sleeps under a tarpaulin pegged up on a branch of a tree just out of the reach of flood waters that still submerge his house. The tarpaulin’s edges angle out at forty-five-degree angles to form a rudimentary tent, with his bed, an assortment of pots and pans, and a wooden shrine he and his sister managed to salvage from their flooded home. His sister now lives at the home of a relative.

“We lost a lot of our belongings, including all of my textbooks,” says Juliano. “I would need to get new books and other items when we can afford them.”

One week on from cyclone in Timor-Leste, children and families struggle to recover 3
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021/Ratnam

Duarte Sarmento cradles his eight-month-old son in a sling tied around his shoulder, watching as UNICEF and the Ministry of Health visited his village on the edge of the lake. “We managed to stay at home until the morning, and then moved to another house we have in the hills,” he said. 

UNICEF has provided several large water tanks, portable handwashing devices and other relief items to support families in Tasi Tolu. Several large tents have also been provided, where the Ministry of Health is setting up temporary facilities to provide healthcare and nutrition screening. The World Food Programme has provided trucks for logistics support, United Nations Development Programme has supported the filling of water tanks and United Nations Population Fund has provided dignity and sanitary kits. 

Elsewhere across the city, families continue to clean layers of mud and debris, repair homes, or dry mattresses, clothes and other items in front yards or on the side of the streets. 

Across the city of over 200,000 people, UNICEF has deployed staff and supplies since 4 April. UNICEF staff have been organizing and distributing relief supplies to evacuation centers where families fled to when their houses and neighbourhoods were flooded. 

UNICEF has also set up Child Friendly Spaces at eleven evacuation centers, provided recreation kits to help ensure children continue structured learning or play at the centers, 2000 mats, over 90 tarpaulins, 1900 blankets, 880 sets of cleaning kits, 570 jerry cans, children’s clothes and toys, diapers, baby carriers and blankets, over 2500 bottles of water, over 400 boxes of face masks so people can practice COVID-19 prevention measures, 200 children’s school bags and material and child-friendly mosquito repellent. UNICEF has also set up 12 portable toilets in evacuation centers and some communities. 

One week on from cyclone in Timor-Leste, children and families struggle to recover4
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2021
One of the UNICEF Timor-Leste staff is playing with the children at Tasi Tolu Child Friendly Space

UNICEF is also coordinating the education response with the Ministry of Health and a number of partners, leads the Child Protection Working Group and supporting the Gender and Protection Working Group. UNICEF is also supporting the ongoing assessments of schools damaged or destroyed by the rain, floods and landslides.

Assessments are ongoing in other areas. UNICEF has pre-positioned supplies to support families in other municipalities and will be deploying these items to support the national response, and is working with the Government of Timor-Leste, UN Agencies and partners on preparing to support medium and long-term needs.