DILI, Timor-Leste - After floods left more than 13,000 people displaced, the Government of Timor-Leste has declared a one-month state of calamity in Dili and appealed for relief assistance to respond to the devastation. According to the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection, the flash floods have claimed 46 lives while many are reported missing or presumed dead.

Dili has been in strict lockdown since early March, but restrictions were temporarily suspended on 9 April to allow for flood response, further worsening the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

In the middle of these challenges, internally displaced persons (IDPs) find themselves in evacuation centres across the island nation as they strive to rebuild their lives.

“This is still not the best place to spend a night but I am safe from the floods,” Mariana Guterres* said. “My bedroom was submerged in water and I had to run to save my life.” 

“My bedroom was submerged in water and I had to run to save my life.” - Mariana Guterres*, flood survivor

Pregnant women in the centres are facing a particularly hard time getting critical medical care in the wake of the disaster, due to impassable roads that have hindered relief efforts.

Thirty-year-old Lucia Lopez*, who is eight months pregnant, was unable to run to safer ground when her community was hit by flash flooding. 

“My brother in law carried me on his motorbike and took me to Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco residence in Comoro for help,” she said. “The priests then took me to Maria Auxiliadora School run by Salestian Catholic Sisters of Don Bosco because of my situation.”

She was brought to one of the 43 evacuation centres run by Catholic nuns in the Comoro area in Dili. To reach the centre, Ms. Lopez endured a treacherous motorcycle ride. 

She expects to give birth to her child in just two weeks and although she has found temporary shelter, she worries about the disruption to her regular prenatal care. 

Mobile maternity clinics provide care to displaced women and babies in evacuation centres following devastating floods. Photo: UNFPA Timor-Leste

Provision of mobile maternity clinics for displaced women

The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) has partnered with the Ministry of Health to ensure expectant mothers can now get medical attention through mobile maternity clinics that serve displaced women and babies in evacuation centres.

“We are bridging the gap in providing essential medical services to pregnant women and babies,” said UNFPA Assistant Country Representative in Timor-Leste, Dr Domingas Bernardo.  

Spotlight Initiative is contributing to UNFPA’s gender-responsive relief efforts by supporting interventions that reach vulnerable women and girls during the emergency. This includes the distribution of information materials and “dignity kits”, which provide hygiene items like sanitary napkins and toiletries to women in emergency situations.

“We are committed to supporting the Government and civil society to address violence against women and girls, including during emegencies.” - UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste Roy Trivedy

Shining a spotlight on the needs of women and girls during natural disasters 

Spotlight Initiative is committed to eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030, including during emergency situations.

In Timor-Leste, the Initiative is implemented by UNFPA, UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF and ILO and funded by the European Union and the United Nations.

United Nations Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste Roy Trivedy noted the need to put gender-based violence programming at the centre of humanitarian response.  

“We are committed to supporting the Government and civil society to address violence against women and girls, including during emergencies when they are most vulnerable,” he said. 

By Suleiman Okoth

*Names have been changed.

Based on original story by UNFPA Timor-Leste