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Darwin's Timor-Leste community pleads for faster flood disaster response

ABC News - April 15, 2021

Felicity James – Fernanda Borges remembers Australia assisting Timor-Leste when the tiny country was struggling with violence after its independence vote.

Ms Borges lives in Darwin now but was formerly Timor-Leste's finance minister during this transition – she would like to see a similar response to the country's recent catastrophic floods and landslides.

"In 1999, we had the catamaran taking goods from Darwin to Dili, we had the air force flying in with emergency supplies," Ms Borges said. "If anything can be done in that regard, it will be most welcome."

A Royal Australian Air Force transport plane travelled via Darwin yesterday to Dili with almost 30 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including hygiene, food and shelter kits.

On board were two members of the Australian Medical Assistance team – an epidemiologist and a health support officer – to help advise the Timor-Leste Government.

The federal government says this is the start of a $7 million contribution, while Labor has demanded a rapid acceleration of the response to match the scale of the disaster.

The floods and landslides – caused by Tropical Cyclone Seroja more than a week and a half ago – have left at least 46 people dead or missing, with thousands displaced in evacuation shelters.

Ms Borges is now helping pack boxes of donated emergency supplies in Darwin, after a huge community effort immediately after the floods.

The volunteers at the Portuguese-Timorese social club, where the boxes of donations are stacking up, are still working out how to get all the items to Timor-Leste.

A group of Australian veterans helped the volunteers transport 70 boxes of donated medical supplies to Timor-Leste on Monday using a private charter.

Among them was former Army Major Michael Stone – now Queensland's Honorary Consul of Timor-Leste – who was part of the Australian-led deployment to the country in 1999.

Mr Stone said the current crisis was "the biggest natural disaster in the history of Timor-Leste".

"As veterans, we've seen suffering and know how critical the first few days of a disaster like this are," Mr Stone said.

The Darwin volunteers now urgently want to transport the remaining donations to Timor-Leste and are in discussions with a shipping company, which is willing to provide containers.

"It's urgent because the calamity has affected very poor families," Ms Borges said.

"Everyone who had rebuilt after the 1999 period and managed to accumulate some personal goods or belongings has lost it all again."

"We hope that the Australian Government will support us here to get it there – the Timorese government has already said it will receive these donated goods and help in getting them out from the ports."

Ms Borges said the response from the Darwin community would already be improving the relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste.

"I'm really proud of the Darwin community's effort because this will be another foundational support that will never be forgotten by the Timorese people," Ms Borges said.

"They are suffering, they need support and their closest neighbour is reaching out and supporting them in a way that is unprecedented.

"We have to thank the community of Darwin for this initiative, because they've taken it on themselves."

Timor-Leste's Consul General in the Northern Territory, Celio Moniz, also thanked the community for its response.

"I would like to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the generosity and the kind hearts of the people of Darwin, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the people of Timor-Leste," he said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-15/nt-timor-leste-former-finance-minister-urges-faster-response/10006970