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Federal government urged to accelerate aid to Timor Leste amid catastrophic floods

ABC News - April 14, 2021

Stephen Dziedzic – Labor is ramping up pressure on the federal government to send military helicopters to Timor-Leste, which is struggling to provide aid to remote communities devastated by catastrophic floods.

The government announced a $7 million assistance package for Timor-Leste on Sunday, including emergency supplies and personal protective equipment.

Earlier today, a Royal Australian Air Force transport plane landed in Dili with almost 30 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including food and shelter kits.

The plane also carried two Australian medical specialists who will help Timor Leste tackle a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases in the wake of the floods.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said Australia would "continue to work closely with government and NGO partners to support Timor-Leste as it manages the challenging aftermath of the floods."

But Labor is demanding that the government rapidly accelerate its response, arguing the announcements so far do not match the scale of the disaster.

"I welcome the initial support the Australian government is providing, but it cannot be the end of assistance" said the Opposition's spokesman for the Pacific, Pat Conroy.

The floods have left at least 46 people dead or missing, while several thousand people are still staying in evacuation centres.

Much of the focus has been on the capital Dili, which was swamped by floodwaters after torrential rain.

But floods and landslides also killed people in more isolated communities, as well as damaging or sweeping away countless roads and bridges across the country.

Ten days after the floods, the Timor Leste government is still struggling to reach some remote villages in mountainous areas.

The ABC has obtained the letter sent by Timor-Leste's Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno to Marise Payne on April 9, formally requesting assistance from Australia.

The letter thanks Australia for its initial help and says Timor Leste will first need, "temporary shelters, food, and other essentials."

But it also requests, "logistics to provide assistance to the most isolated areas in Timor Leste", seemingly a reference to military helicopters that could be used to drop people and supplies into remote areas hit by the disaster.

Pat Conroy said the government should grant that request immediately.

"We should be responding urgently to the Timor Leste government's plea for support, including helicopters and logistical support," he told the ABC.

'Time to step up, Scott Morrison'

Northern Territory Labor MP Luke Gosling has also sharply criticised the pace of the government's response, calling the initial announcement "underwhelming."

Some security analysts are also calling for the government to ramp up its response.

Professor of International Security & Intelligence Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) John Blaxland took to social media to make his point.

"We talk about positioning of Australian Defence Force & allied forces in the north, especially for [Health and Disaster Relief] type tasks, but we seem reluctant to deploy assets, like the LHDs with helicopters, to render vital support to our neighbours in flooded East Timor," he wrote on Twitter, referring to amphibious assault ships known as landing helicopter docks.

"Time to step up, Scott Morrison."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-14/australia-gov-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-to-timor-leste-/10006972