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DILI April 13, 2021 -- The Government of Timor-Leste declared a one-month state of calamity in Dili and appealed for relief assistance last week to respond to effects of devastating floods that left more than 13,000 people displaced.

According to the Secretariat of State for Civil Protection the flash floods have claimed 46 lives while many are reported missing or presumed dead.

Strict lockdown in Dili, in place since early March, was temporarily suspended on April 9 to allow for flood response further worsening the risk of spread of COVID-19.

In the middle of these challenges, internally displaced persons (IDPs) still find themselves in evacuation centers 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. My bedroom was submerged in water and I had to run to save my life,” narrates Mariana Guterres* at an evacuation center in Comoro area in Dili.

Pregnant women in the centers are particularly facing a hard time getting critical medical care in the wake of the disaster that left roads impassable and hindered relief efforts.

Thirty-year-old Lucia Lopez*, who is eight months pregnant, was too weak to run to safer grounds when the wrath of the flash floods struck.

 “My brother in law carried me on his motor bike and took me to Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco residence in Comoro for help.

“The priests then took me to Maria Auxiliadora School run by Salestian Catholic Sisters of Don Bosco because of my situation,” said Lucia Lopez*.

She was transferred to one of the 43 evacuation centers run by Catholic nuns in Comoro area in Dili.

Ms. Lopez survived a harrowing motocycle ride under heavy rains, navigating through narrow-winding pathways to save her life and that of her expected fifth born child -- due in two weeks.

Although she has found a temporary place, she worries about disruption to her regular maternity clinic visits.

Provision of mobile maternity clinics for displaced women

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

With support from United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, expectant mothers can now get medical attention through mobile maternity clinics to help displaced women and babies in evacuation centers.

Shining spotlight on women rights in Timor-Leste and globally

At the centers, UNFPA continues to shine the light in creating awareness on ending gender based violence alongside restoring dignity of displaced women and girls through provision of “dignity kits” or hygiene and sanitary items like sanitary napkins and toiletries to meet essential needs in emergency situations like floods.

UNFPA is part of a global initiative known as Spotlight Initiative committed to eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030, including during emergency situations where they are most vulnerable.

The initiative is implemented by UNFPA, UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF and ILO and funded by European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN).

Roy Trivedy, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste noted the need to include 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 emegencies.”

Safe spaces for pregnant women affected by COVID-19

Similarly, UNFPA believes in ‘safe spaces’ where women and girls can receive information and access services that promote healing and empowerment -- ensuring safety for all.

Such facilities include; pre-natal care and emergency room, and delivery room at Vila-Verde COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Dili -- funded by UNFPA to provide critical medical services to pregnant women affected by COVID-19 pandemic – specifically those that have tested positive.

NB: Lucia Lopez* and Mariana Guterres* are not real names. The names have been changed for protection.


For more information contact:

Suleiman Okoth

Communications and Programme Support Specialist
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Timor-Leste

UN House, Caicoli Street
Dili, Timor-Leste

Mobile: +670 75169796
WhatsApp: +254 780534026