Subject: Locusts threaten East Timor food security

BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific

January 29, 2008

Locusts threaten East Timor food security

Source: Radio Australia, Melbourne, in English 0810 gmt 29 Jan 08

Text of report by Radio Australia, international service of the government-funded ABC, on 29 January

[From ABC Radio National's "PM" programme]

[Presenter Mark Colvin] East Timor is facing a growing emergency in the wake of monsoon storms that have ruined crops and damaged buildings and infrastructure. Authorities say three people have died since severe storms battered the country earlier this month, one man in a rock fall and two women killed by a falling tree. But their biggest fear now is that communities in the west left without a proper crop will soon find themselves with little to eat. And, as Anne Barker reports, the worst threat is in the form of locusts.

[Barker] Thousands of Timorese families have lost their homes since the monsoon rains began a few weeks ago. Entire crops of maize or corn have been flattened and floodwaters have damaged infrastructure and produced ideal conditions for locusts to breed and eat their way through any remaining crops. Kevin Austin from the United Nations Development Programme says while the wet season comes every year, the change from El Nino to a La Nina weather pattern has made this year particularly hard.

[Austin] Timor is in a region that is highly vulnerable to La Nina and El Nino during dry ears, so climatically it is already vulnerable. One of the issues we are seeing emerge from the assessment teams is that there are no natural buffers for things, for example maize doesn't have natural tree buffers, well forested areas, a lot of cleared land. Issues with flooding and landslides can also be linked in some way to clearing of land, unsustainable agricultural practices in elevated areas.

[Barker] The worst damage is in East Timor as west, but 11 of the country's 13 districts have felt the brunt in some form or other. Some have widespread crop damage, others are in the grip of huge plagues of locusts, and more still have extensive damage to homes and buildings.

[Austin] We are concerned in the coming rains that we are expecting in the next week to two weeks that we could see areas possibly cut [off], roads cut. But yes, certainly the impact on housing from partially damaged houses to totally destroyed houses, the impact on the crops is what concerns us and the government, particularly for food security. This is a period that is normally known as the hunger month between cropping cycles.

[Barker] Angelina Ruda Cabana [phonetic] from the World Food Programme has just been to Bobonaro District in the northwest:

[Ruda Cabana] We saw that a lot of crops, mainly maize, had been washed away and most households have lost some of their maize crops.

[Barker] Are people going hungry?

[Ruda Cabana] As of now they didn't report that they are going hungry, but they are telling us that people have run short of their food stocks. So for the next two months it is a critical time in their lives because the maize that they expected to harvest is now lost. So really people are now using their depleted, they are depleting all their household stocks. At the same time, some reported that they are having to sell some of their household assets.

[Barker] A national disaster operation centre was set up in Dili this month to respond to the growing emergency and authorities including aid agencies and the United Nations met today. Kevin Austin says that locusts are a top priority.

[Austin] For example, people that experienced probably for the first time last year in the west the locust impact are now seeing - for example where they have had crop failure because there have been some areas that have had no rain for crops to grow from - but certainly locusts are appearing to be the greatest threat.

[Barker] If the rains continue, which they are bound to do, how do you see things developing?

[Austin] We've been monitoring very closely with the support of climate agencies like the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and we are anticipating from the climate forecast that there may be another wet cycle emerging in our region in the next week to two weeks. So that does concern us. If we see further extreme weather or large rainfall then we are going to see some problems with infrastructure and further impact on communities, their crops and their property.

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