• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Troubleshooting UNHCR technicians get to work on Dili's crowded camps

News Stories, 11 July 2006

© UNHCR/A.Rummery
UNHCR has set up a mobile technical team to help sanitation and water agencies improve facilities for displaced people in several camps in Timor-Leste capital Dili.

DILI, Timor-Leste, July 11 (UNHCR) Whether it's fixing a gushing tap, unblocking a drain or laying concrete to prevent mosquitoes breeding in ponds near water outlets, UNHCR's new mobile technical team is working hard to improve drainage and help prevent disease in Dili's crowded camps.

Now that new tented camps have been established and the most urgent shelter improvement work is complete, UNHCR site planners are helping the water and sanitation agencies to address urgent problems.

The UN refugee agency has hired a troubleshooting team of skilled workers including a carpenter, plumber and general hand from among the tens of thousands of people displaced in the Timor-Leste capital since rival armed groups first clashed in late April. They will carry out simple repairs and technical jobs, with a focus on drainage issues.

UNHCR's emergency team leader, Vanno Noupech, said the mobile technical team concept had been used by UNHCR in other emergency situations, particularly where there was a proliferation of camps with varying conditions.

"The idea is to respond quickly to problems that pose a health risk, complementing what other specialist agencies are doing and working in close concert with the water and sanitation coordination group," said Noupech.

"Overflowing septic tanks and blocked drains can lead to cholera and typhoid, stagnant wash water collecting in ponds is a magnet for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and poor bathing and clothes washing facilities can lead to poor hygiene practices," he added.

In recent days, the mobile technical team has begun fixing drains and improving water points in several sites. On Saturday, the new team swung into action at the Seminario Menor in Dili's Lihane Timur area. Just a few months ago, the complex was home to 87 seminarians, four priests and six other staff today it hosts some 1,700 people displaced in various waves since late April.

While the rows of toilets, showers and washbasins seem adequate for the 100 or so people they normally serve, the sanitation and drainage system is struggling to cope with the new population.

"One problem is that people have been showering in the toilet cubicles and the sewerage system has been unable to cope with the excess of water. A mix of sullage [domestic waste water] and sewage is overflowing into the open drains ... that normally carry only used wash water," said UNHCR site planner Leonie Walker.

One of the mobile team's first tasks was to make 15 wooden lids for the toilets, so that if people do shower in the cubicles the water stays out of the sewerage system. Another task has been fixing the many broken taps.

"Broken taps have let gallons of water gush into the washing room, clogging further the overburdened drains and creating inches of stagnant water in the ablutions block for people to wade through," Walker said.

Across Dili at the National Central Pharmacy, the mobile team was on Tuesday installing washing points and privacy screens over a proper drainage system. More than 1,000 displaced people have set up camp at the site, normally a storage and distribution point for pharmaceutical products. UNHCR has provided tents, blankets and plastic sheeting, but drainage remains a problem.

"People gather to wash themselves and their clothes around a water tank where there is just no adequate drainage to cope with the excess water," said Walker.

Large ponds of stagnant water have collected near these taps, attracting pigs and mosquitoes. "This newly created swamp is great for the pigs and mosquitoes, but not so great for the health and hygiene of the IDPs [internally displaced people] living at the site," Walker noted.

The UNHCR mobile team has moved the wash point to a concrete area with good drainage and installed a pump to carry the water to a town drain.

The team has also installed screens with timber frames and plastic sheets to create male and female wash rooms around the new taps.

While Dili has been increasingly calm over the past week, with more shops re-opening, schools resuming and traffic on the streets, there has been no large-scale movement of displaced people back to their homes.

"While the signs are good that conditions for return of people to their homes could be imminent, UNHCR continues to do what it can to address urgent health risks in priority sites around Dili," said UNHCR's Noupech.

By Ariane Rummery in Dili, Timor-Leste




UNHCR country pages

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

In mid-June UNHCR extended its emergency relief operation in Timor-Leste to include tens of thousands of people who fled violence in the capital Dili for districts in the countryside. An estimated 79,000 displaced people are in outlying districts with some 72,000 displaced in Dili.

The UN refugee agency has delivered shelter materials and emergency supplies to easterners and westerners in Hera village, 25 kilometres to the east of Dili. Most of the inhabitants of Hera are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills. A smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili. UNHCR has also delivered shelter materials to Metinaro, 40 minutes outside of Dili, as well as to Auturo Island.

Despite sporadic violence, UNHCR continues to help the displaced who say they are still too scared to return to their homes and will wait in temporary shelters until the crisis ends.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

June 2006

Recent violence in Timor-Leste has displaced about 100,000 people, with 65,000 sheltering in 40 squalid encampments in the capital, Dili, and a further 35,000 taking refuge in the countryside. A UNHCR assessment team visited the makeshift camps in Dili end May and reported the most critical humanitarian needs, aside from security, were food, clean water and shelter.

In a phased response to the crisis and as part of a joint UN effort, UNHCR deployed an emergency team to reinforce staff on the ground and is now airlifting in urgently needed supplies for some 30,000 displaced. The first flight, which arrived in Dili on June 5, brought 14 tonnes of lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from UNHCR stockpiles in Jordan.

UNHCR and its partners will use these items to establish new, planned camps for the displaced, where they can live in better conditions and assistance will be easier to deliver, until the security situation improves and they can return to their homes.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

With the first wave of UNHCR's air and sea operation to rush relief supplies to Timor-Leste completed, the focus is now on improving the living conditions of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around Dili.

Many of the 69,000 displaced in Dili have told UNHCR they prefer to stay near the makeshift sites where they feel safe. In response, UNHCR has begun searching for additional sites around these areas to clear ground, pitch tents and decongest the existing makeshift shelters. Not all makeshift sites are suitable for expansion, so UNHCR is moving ahead with the establishment and planning of new sites.

UNHCR has sent an assessment team to the countryside where some 78,000 Timorese have sought refuge. Many displaced are staying with relatives, while others are sheltering in huts, offices, church building and spontaneous camp sites. We are now delivering assistance to some of these people.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps