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Published:June 22nd, 2007 07:49 EST
One in Five Timorese Needs Food Assistance

One in Five Timorese Needs Food Assistance

By SOP newswire

A new United Nations report says one in five people in East Timor needs food assistance, blaming crop losses on persistent drought and locust plagues.

The report issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warns that to avert a major food crisis, up to 220,000 vulnerable people living in outlying areas across the country will require more than 15,000 tonnes of emergency food assistance, particularly during the six months of the coming 'lean season' starting in October.

“A poor harvest this year has worsened the already fragile livelihoods of people all over Timor but especially among the poorest people living in rural and more remote districts,” said Anthony Banbury, WFP's Regional Director for Asia.

“And for many of those displaced by the conflict during last year's crisis, who continue to live outside of their communities, a restricted domestic food supply means they will continue to rely on food assistance.”

The new report, based on a joint assessment mission carried out by the two UN agencies in March and April, suggests substantial reductions in all of the country's crops due in large part to recurring drought, especially on the north coast, and an outbreak of locust infestations in the western regions.

Production of maize, Timor's most important crop, declined by 30 per cent to 70,000 tonnes. Output of cereals, cassava and other tubers dropped by 25 30 per cent while rice production decreased by 20 per cent, the report says.

“We need to continue to closely monitor the drought situation and any further locust infestations to help provide Timorese farmers with the best information and assistance,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System.

The FAO/WFP report also noted that the severe food crisis earlier this year, with commodity price hikes and the virtual disappearance of rice from the market, highlighted the need to improve food security policies, strategies and implementation mechanisms.

In addition to those affected by crop failure, Timor also has nearly 100,000 internally displaced people living in Dili or with relatives in the districts as a result of a political crisis that began in 2006 in the country, which the UN helped to shepherd to independence in 2002.