This year East Timor has not experienced a normal dry season. Much of the country has had rain all year, apparently a result of “La Niña” (related to the “El Niño” weather phenomenon). The capital Dili has repeatedly flash flooded. Local news outlets have reported both crops destroyed by rains, and even more worryingly that farmers have not planted this year in many places, as they are not used to preparing fields in the rain.
East Timor at the best of times is a net food importer, not able to produce surpluses to support city dwellers, and with a “hungry season” between crops. But this year, the situation is quite dire.
Mercy Corps aid worker Jim Jarvie explains
Normally, families prepare for up to two months of limited food in January and February between harvests, but this year the exceptional weather has meant they have already been suffering from lack of food for several months, with the next harvest still four months away if they are lucky. […]
To exacerbate the problem, the roads that link these vulnerable communities with the capital city, Dili, are crumbling down the steep slopes as excessive water slides the roads. sometimes down hundreds of feet, into gullies. There is little to no support for these weakening families in increasing isolation. And they have little voice.
Blogger The Dili Insider provides a simple photographic reminder that for the past years in this season, East Timor has found itself in this situation, waiting for ships with imported rice to arrive.
Since 2006, the government has been importing and subsidizing rice. In previous years, there have been scandals related to these rice contracts (see Global Voices’ 2009 coverage of “The Ricegate scandal”). It is not clear how much of the imported rice has ever reached these isolated rural communities with food deficits – most appears to have gone to town and city dwellers.
And given the serious situation facing Timorese farmers, the issue of food imports and access to imported food has taken center stage once again.
Opposition blogger Tatoli continues to criticize the ruling coalition [Tet] on its rice importation policy:
Maibé foos mak tama iha Timor-Leste tonelada ba tonelada mós Povu Timor-Leste barak mak la hetan foos ne'e nia oin. Povu Timor-Leste kiak tiha ona, foos mós folin karun tan fila fali, enkuantu Sr. Germano da Silva Lobato (ministra Lucia Lobato nia la'en) sa'e karreta Hummer bá-mai hodi soe rai-rahun ba Povu ki'ik-kiak.
Economist blogger Professor Almeida Serra believes that inflation in recent months is linked to the availability of subsidized, imported rice. He wrote in late October [pt]
Para a subida da taxa de inflação terá contribuído, nomeadamente, o quase desaparecimento do mercado do “arroz do MTCI”, subsidiado, sendo substituido por arroz importado comercialmente. Por exemplo, a taxa homóloga de inflação dos “cereais, raízes e seus produtos” — onde se inclui o arroz e que representa 13,1% do cabaz do IPC — foi, nos meses de Junho a Setembro, respectivamente de 14,1%, 16%, 11,1% e 11,3%.
Bloggers report changes in the government's approach to rice. Lita at “Notisia Negosio” (Business News) writes [Tet]
Iha fulan Outubru 2010 MTCI sei hamenus intervensaun foos iha merkado, tamba fo hikas ona k’nar ba empresarios sira hodi nune’e MTCI sei hare deit ba assuntos emergencia no sei atende deit iha fatin nebe’e deficil acesso ba mercado ( areas remotas ou rurais)
One thing is clear: there will be little margin of error in food supply in East Timor over the coming months.
Another potential impact of the rain is an increase in diseases transmitted by mosquitoes like malaria and dengue. The local media reported an upsurge in children being hospitalized in the month of October [Tet], with both patients and hospital officials citing the unceasing rains as a possible factor.
The World Health Organization's regional tracking of dengue revealed that as of September in East Timor, more than two times as many cases had been reported than in all of the previous year. Their briefing states:
The exact reason for the apparent upsurge in reported cases in different countries is not completely clear, but weather patterns, especially relative increases in rainfall are very likely to be an important feature.
The Timorese Ministry of Health has set up a team called Kondemal to “look at the extraordinary prevalence [of disease] or outbreaks that can happen in the rainy season”. The Ministry announces on its blog [Tet]
Ekipa Kondemal sei foti asaun seriu ba kazu extraordinaria nebe mosu iha tenpu udan. Liu husi servisu konjunta entre Ministeriu Saúde liu husi Saúde Distrito, Ho autoridades local hodi hatun no halakon moras ne’e liu husi atendementu hanesan Fogin (Rega susuk), Abatisasi no intervensaun seluk mak hanesan liu husi atendementu SISCA ne’ebé hato’o husi Meja 4.
Robin Taudevin's 2006 photos of malaria and dengue patients at Bairro Pite Clinic are a dramatic reminder of what an impact these diseases have, particularly on children.