Stephen Dziedzic – Timor-Leste's government says it will ask Australia and other nations for help following catastrophic floods that have killed dozens and left thousands homeless.
Late on Tuesday, officials confirmed the death toll from the disaster had reached 34. But that figure is expected to rise, with at least another eight people missing.
Neighbouring Indonesian islands have also been battered by heavy rains and floods leaving at least 130 people dead, with dozens still missing.
Australia's government is particularly concerned about the risk of waterborne diseases, as well as shortages of clean water and food in Timor-Leste, which is to Australia's north.
Government officials and NGOs are still scrambling to work out the full extent of the damage outside of Dili, where raging waters and mudslides have swept away houses, destroyed roads and carried away bridges.
Timor Government Minister Fidelis Leite Magalhaes said the government was still assessing the impact of the floods but signalled his country would ask for more help soon.
"The government would request assistance from friendly countries, especially Australia considering its closeness and available resources and experience in disaster management, after conducting its assessment of the damage," he told the ABC.
"But the Australian embassy and its agencies are working very hard side-by-side with the Timorese government and its people."
Vaccine rollout to begin despite floods
There are also fears COVID-19 will spread rapidly in the wake of the floods, which disrupted a lockdown in the capital Dili and forced thousands of people to take shelter in a dozen refuges.
Timor-Leste recorded its first COVID-19 death today, and now has almost 500 active cases. The country's first batch of COVID vaccines, which were acquired via the COVAX facility, arrived in Dili yesterday.
United Nations agencies and the Government of Timor-Leste hope to begin the rollout of vaccines tomorrow, despite the disruption caused by the floods.
Mr Magalhaes said Australia had already provided Timor-Leste with crucial medical assistance to help it test for COVID-19 and contain the spread of the disease.
"We are also very thankful of Australia's assistance in the fight against COVID-19, which would have been impossible without Australia's support," he said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said yesterday that Australia stood ready to provide more help to Timor-Leste, but the federal opposition has been pressing the Coalition to begin preparations immediately.
Northern Territory Labor MP Luke Gosling told ABC local radio in Darwin that Australia needed to "step up."
"I've given (the government) some free advice, which is to start getting assets pre-deployed before heading over to Timor, particularly to help out with fresh drinking water," he said.
"Because it takes a while to mobilise that sort of support. You don't have to wait to get the official letter from the Timor-Leste Government to know that this is a city in crisis."