Update No. 99/04 on ICRC activities in Indonesia/East Timor
11-10-1999 Operational Update
The wave of violence that has engulfed East Timor in recent weeks has had major implications on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In Dili, although the entire town is now officially secure and free access is possible in all areas, the massive destruction of infrastructure or established facilities somewhat hampers relief efforts. Commercial activity has resumed, but only in the most basic form. Local residents are moving freely, but remain traumatized by their recent experiences, and are not yet participating in cleanup and rebuilding programs undertaken by the military task-force and various agencies. Over the last few days, some 70,000 people returned to the town for food distributions, but it appears that a number of them have gone back to the hills until conditions and infrastructure improve.
In other areas of East Timor, the security situation is still highly volatile, so that the ICRC has managed to reach only Baucau and Liquiça. On 7 October a clash erupted between the Australian military forces and a militia group in Suai. Two militia members were killed in the cross fire, and two INTERFET soldiers were wounded.
The ICRC team in East Timor now comprises 32 delegates, including members of participating Red Cross National Societies and local personnel. Staff are based primarily in Dili, and at a second ICRC base in Baucau. Sp ecialists include a full complement of medical and surgical personnel, as well as experts in relief, logistics, water and sanitation, and protection activities. If security conditions permit, additional ICRC teams will also be based permanently in Suai and Viqueque.
In conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP) the ICRC played a pivotal role in the co-ordinated relief distribution carried out in Dili by church, CNRT authorities and various humanitarian agencies on 6 October. The ICRC team supplied rice for roughly half of the 60,000 people assisted, and transportation and logistical support at three of the six distribution points. The ICRC was also responsible for the installation of water-supply tanks at each location. The delegation also organized a distribution of non-food items for 12,000 families in Dili on 8 October. In forthcoming months, since other humanitarian organizations will focus on rice supplies, the ICRC will provide other dietary essentials, including 1,800 tons of maize, vegetable oil, peas and salt.
After an unsuccessful attempt the previous day, on 29 September, an ICRC team was finally able to land in Baucau with much-needed food supplies. In the Liquiça district, 2,500 persons also received assistance.
In Dili, although most dwellings have been razed, the walls of many houses are still intact. ICRC construction engineers have carried out a survey of the town's projected accommodation needs for the next few weeks, and have proposed importing timber and nails, with a prefabricated system constructed over existing walls. Reconstruction could be completed in less than a day, at an estimated $US500 per house/famil y. The ICRC is willing to commit itself to provide this service for 2,000 families in Dili. Although emergency supplies of tarpaulins and plastic sheeting have been distributed, these will be inadequate with the onset of the rainy season.
On September 22, the ICRC established its presence in the civilian hospital in Dili with the help of the equipment provided by the Norwegian Red Cross. During its short tenure there, 100 patients have been admitted, 84 surgical procedures have been performed and more than 1,000 persons treated as outpatients. The ICRC will continue to support the civilian hospital in Dili until such time as there is a local authority in place to do so.
Water and Sanitation
During the emergency period, the ICRC is the co-ordinating water and sanitation agency in Dili, assisted by UNICEF and OXFAM. ICRC engineers have reactivated the three water treatment plants supplying urban areas with clean water. The eventual aim is to fill the city's five reservoirs with chlorinated water, which will then be supplied to the town's residents.
Re-establishment of Family Links
Progress has been made towards tracing and reuniting those displaced persons separated from their families and loved ones during the recent crisis. An ICRC tracing and protection plan has been developed to facilitate the recording of Red Cross Messages (RCMs) from displaced persons in both East and West Timor for delivery to locations in Indonesia and abroad. There have been 2,000 messages sent from Dili, with numbers stabilizing at a rate of around 300 per day. A satellite phone has also been provided whereby three-minute calls may be made to family members abroad.
Radio broadcasts are planned for Australia and Portugal and on INTERFET radio for Timor, during which blocks of 50 names are to be read on air. An ICRC tracing delegate is now based in Baucau, and when security conditions permit, more delegates will follow to Viqueque and Suai.
Given the complex legal framework brought about by the presence of an international military task-force lacking a recognizable judicial authority, the conditions under which detainees may be taken into custody by the INTERFET troops remain unclear. This unsatisfactory situation was been exacerbated following the partial withdrawal of Indonesian military forces. ICRC delegates are co-operating with legal and detention officers from the military task-force, and have reiterated the ICRC's mandate under international law to be notified of, and have unconditional access to all persons detained by the military authorities. All persons arrested by INTERFET so far have been visited by ICRC delegates.
A fleet of 23 ICRC vehicles now operates in Dili. The two Surabaya planes which provided the initial supply lines have been released on a weekly basis, and are now supplemented by a helicopter, and supported by an HF co mmunication network established by ICRC technicians. The helicopter facilitates access to remote areas, and also assists in carrying out a nutritional survey of the island. An ICRC nutritionist is to arrive in the second week of October.
It is estimated that there are currently between 200,000 and 250,000 displaced East Timorese - many of whom were forcibly evacuated. People are grouped in government run purpose-built camps, local buildings (e.g. factories, sports stadiums and schools), and makeshift shelters under trees. The majority of locations are overcrowded, and lack basic hygiene facilities. In some camps in Atambua over 50% of latrines are inoperable. The approaching rains of the wet season will exacerbate this situation. The strain on local amenities, and on the patience of local residents is considerable.
The border regions of the Belu district have a strong militia presence. ICRC is proceeding slowly in gaining the confidence of displaced persons, and in initiating humanitarian assistance. In all camps in West Timor it is difficult for expatriate personnel to move freely. Police and military local authorities have agreed to ensure security during distributions.
In West Timor, all ICRC operations are carried out in conjunction with the National Red Cross Society (PMI). In total, there are over 150 Red Cross personnel involved in the West Timor operation - 80 in Kupang and 70 in Atambua, many of whom are PMI volunteers. Specialist expatriate staff from the Jakarta delegation are also part of this operation.
In total, 73,000 persons - 39,000 in Atambua and 34,000 in Kupang - have been supplied with food and non-food assistance by ICRC/PMI teams in 150 locations since the beginning of the operation. A nutritional assessment of the displaced population will be undertaken at end-October.
ICRC/PMI teams have established six health clinics and two mobile clinics in Atambua, each of which treats an average of 50 patients each day.
Water and Sanitation
An ICRC engineer arrived in Kupang on 8 October. Initial assessments in the border camps between East and West Timor reveal an urgent need for drainage systems and sanitary facilities. The monsoon season has begun, and since the displaced are in makeshift shelters, these will prove inadequate with the onset of heavy rains.
Re-establishment of family links
The initial phases of ICRC's tracing and protection plan have been warmly welcomed by displaced persons in West Timor. More than 3,000 RCMs have been recorded, 2,000 from Atambua and 1,000 from Kupang. Messages continue to be received at a rate of around 250 each day.
ICRC delegates are closely monitoring the progress of the resettlement plan put forward by the authorities, in consultation with UNHCR, for those East Timorese wishing to return. The position of the ICRC is in accordance with the stance taken by UNHCR - that is, for this plan to be perceived as legitimate in humanitarian terms, the international community must be provided with full and unhindered access to all locations in West Timor where displaced persons are currently accommodated. The ICRC would expect any re-settlement process to remain sufficiently transparent so as to ensure the security of returnees at all stages - including in the screening process, transportation and actual re-settlement.
On 8 and 9 October, the UNHCR chartered two flights per day into Dili. A total of 380 persons were accommodated in the stadium, all of whom received relief distributions from various agencies. UNHCR has announced that this operation will continue during the next three weeks. Morale was high in Dili, and by the evening of 9 October, many people had already returned to their homes.