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Territorians have shown a lot of heart in helping Timor-Leste in its hour of need

Whilst grappling with a recent outbreak of COVID-19 – after months successfully holding the virus at bay – our near neighbour was hit with devastating flooding due to Tropical Cyclone Seroja.

Hundreds of people have been confirmed killed in eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste, with dozens more still missing.
About 14,000 East Timorese have lost their homes.

Floodwaters have done significant damage, and critical infrastructure such as roads and bridges have been destroyed.
From some parts of Australia, Timor-Leste may seem a world away. But for us here in the Top End, we know that Timorese culture and people are tightly woven into our
everyday lives.

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(Image: Aerial photo of Dili, Timor-Leste - Shutterstock - Jack Nugent)

Darwin is only an hour’s flight from Dili, which is about four times closer to us than the eastern state capitals.
Territorians have responded to this crisis with such generosity – from the emergency centre at the Portuguese-Timorese Social Club, four shipping containers of donated
goods were dispatched. Many more donations are still pouring in.

Foodbank are also working to send emergency food supplies across.
It has been a tremendous effort.

And we can do much more. Darwin is the perfect base from which to launch our aid efforts.

Dili went into lockdown during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, but physical distancing isn’t possible during a large-scale natural disaster.
People have been forced together in evacuation centres, camps, and other makeshift shelters, making viral transmission more likely.

Our Federal Government should be working with our ally, the United States – the US Marine Corps and the Navy Seabees have helped in Timor many times before.
US Marines in Darwin have this week been packing and sending off more goods.

Donating cash to aid organisations operating on the ground in Dili is a great way to get help over there more quickly than shipping containers can arrive.
As the floodwaters recede, we’ll need to ensure that adequate supplies of freshwater, food, tents, and clothing are delivered to people displaced by the flooding.
Up in Timor’s mountainous regions, roads and bridges remain cut off. Malnourished children who’ve become more malnourished as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown are
now getting by on a bowl of rice with some leaves each day. It’s a dire situation.

They need to be resupplied by air, and that’s something Australia should already be doing. The Government cannot afford to drag its feet on this.

We’ll also need to help with the clean-up. Mud will have to be cleared, along with the rubble of damaged structures. Our Army engineers will need to start repairing buildings
and critical infrastructure. We already have the Defence Cooperation Program on the ground to advise on this work.

Timor-Leste’s health infrastructure has been disrupted. If flood shelters become COVID-19 super-spreader sites, we’ll have to act fast.

We’ll need aid staff, engineers, and medical personnel to help the Timorese vaccinate, heal, and rebuild in their hour of need. I know many of these organisations are ready to
move.

So far, we’ve only sent two medical personnel over there. Darwin is the home base to AUSMAT, who works with the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre. We
could have mobilised these world leaders almost two weeks ago to assist.

The time to act was yesterday. We can help our neighbour, and we must do more – now

 

Luke Gosling is the Federal Member for Solomon and a former Army Officer.

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Above image: Shutterstock 572362216