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From M2 Presswire


UNICEF -- Support for Timor urgently needed

DATELINE: October 28, 1999

M2 PRESSWIRE The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today urged the international community to put its full weight behind ongoing relief efforts in East and West Timor, where as many as 400,000 displaced people are facing worsening health conditions from an early onset of monsoon season.

The rain, which has fallen every day this week, is accelerating the spread of illness in the refugee population, almost 40 per cent of which is estimated to be under the age of 15. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections such as pneumonia are on the rise, and the threat of malaria - carried by a mosquito population that thrives on damp conditions - is also growing.

"We have been working overtime to address the health needs of these children and their families," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Yet with these rains, conditions are certainly getting tougher. This is precisely the time we need the international community to redouble its commitment to the Timor relief effort."

Earlier today, the United Nations family of agencies appealed for nearly $200 million over the next nine months to meet emergency humanitarian needs in West Timor and provide for relief and reconstruction in East Timor. UNICEF programs that specifically address the health, education and psychosocial needs of children - including a comprehensive immunization campaign and back-to-school effort - make up $14 million of the total appeal.

"We are at a crucial juncture in the relief effort," Ms. Bellamy said. "We have managed to stay one step ahead of a major outbreak of disease, but it is clear that, with the arrival of the monsoon season, the health of tens of thousands of children remains at high risk."

In West Timor, some 240,000 refugees have been huddled in dozens of makeshift camps since being hounded out of East Timor by militia groups in early September. About three-quarters of these refugees are massed in the Belu region of West Timor, near the East-West border. Many have been living out in the open or under rickety lean-tos fashioned from dried palm fronds.

In East Timor, tens of thousands of displaced persons are still hiding in the hills, where they retreated in early September to escape the militia rampage. Large portions of this hidden population are still without adequate food, water, and medical attention.

The rainy season - which was not expected until the end of November - struck early, making life miserable for those without proper shelter. UNICEF is responding with a rapid delivery of plastic sheeting, and UNICEF-supplied tents are being set-up as health centres and for dry storage of food and other relief items. The agency is also supporting the rapid installation of latrines and other sanitation facilities.

To prevent the spread of disease, UNICEF has organized mobile health teams in conjunction with partner agencies and local volunteer groups. In the West the teams are moving from camp to camp, vaccinating children against measles and treating malaria, diarrhoea and other illnesses. In the East a vaccination campaign in the large cities was launched last week. Reception centres at the East-West border are also providing health checks and vaccinations for children.

"It's true that the process of repatriating refugees from West Timor to East >Timor has begun," noted Ms. Bellamy. "But while that process is very positive, >it's important to recognise that it is slow-moving and likely to take months."

"By the end of November - in the heart of the rainy season - we can still expect to be aiding more than 100,000 refugees in West Timor. And for most of those who are already in East Timor, conditions will remain harsh for some time to come. That's why this humanitarian appeal is so important."

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