Insights and Analysis

Devastating Floods Hit Timor-Leste

April 14, 2021

By The Asia Foundation in Timor-Leste

In the early hours of Sunday, April 4, torrential rain overwhelmed the city of Dili, causing severe flash flooding, landslides, and destruction. Some awoke to find water inside their houses; others never slept; even worse, some never woke at all. Heavy rainfall from Cyclone Seroja had been pelting Dili for a week before the once-in-50-years flood. Damage has been estimated at more than US$100 million, but the longer-term effects will be seen among the traumatized and vulnerable victims.

Twelve municipalities have been affected, the worst of which is Dili, where flash flooding damaged houses, buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. Official figures state that 13,554 people from 2,315 houses have been evacuated to 40 evacuation centers around the city. Excavators, heavy earth-moving machinery, and water pumps have been deployed to clear standing water, fallen trees, mud, and rubble. A week has passed since the floods, and although some lives have returned to normal, others are still in upheaval. Access to houses is still limited in the western point of the city, Tasi Tolu. Beyond Dili, some roads to mountain towns in the neighboring districts of Aileu and Maubisse have been cut off.



What has The Asia Foundation been doing since the floods?

We experienced the flooding first-hand. The bottom floor of our Dili office was submerged in ankle-high water that damaged electronics and other resources, including the server room. Several staff lost vehicles and other belongings in the flood. While our own cleanup efforts proceed, we have pitched in to help the public with flood relief.


People gather and rest in an overhang shelterIn the first 48 hours of the flooding, members of our Nabilan program team joined other volunteers to assess evacuation centers around Dili, identifying high-risk areas and securing bedding, food, and water for evacuees. The Nabilan program, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, released emergency funds to assist domestic-violence service workers who were affected by the floods, ensuring the continuity of those services for vulnerable victims, and we are continuing to support activists who were affected by the floods.

The volunteers are now focusing on delivering much-needed psychological first aid to evacuees—providing small-group counseling to men, women, and children. Mobile play therapy has been established in two evacuation centers for traumatized children. With our administrative and logistical support, the group is coordinating its efforts from the Foundation’s office. Moving forward, the team is working to assess the longer-term effects of the floods, especially on women and children and other vulnerable groups.

Let’s Read

Following the evacuations, our Let’s Read program team began assembling educational activity packs for displaced children. The packs include 15 titles printed from our digital library, along with writing paper, activity sheets, and other items packed in low-cost reusable bags for children stuck in the evacuation centers. The 15 books have themes that relate to the current situation in Timor-Leste, such as dealing with flooding, Covid-19, and community involvement, and deliveries are expected to begin shortly.


The tourism team, with support from the Embassy of New Zealand in Timor-Leste, has assembled emergency supplies for distribution to flood- and landslide-affected areas in Aileu and Maubisse. So far, the team has sent three large trucks full of food, bedding, temporary shelters, and sanitary materials to more than 500 displaced individuals from 70 families.

Aileu and Maubisse administrators and the national police are assisting with the distribution of these emergency supplies in remote communities where the roads have been rendered unusable. In addition to emergency supplies, The Asia Foundation mobilized restaurants connected to their tourism working groups in Aileu and Maubisse to provide hot meals for displaced families.


Yellow truck piled with sleeping mats.


What is it like?

To get a sense of what people have been going through, we asked our staff to share a story of their own or someone they know. Most of our staff spent every day last week helping friends clean their houses, and one spoke about their experience.

It was such a bad experience, the worst! I never expected this in my whole life. It has taken me over three days to clean up all the mud inside my house. Lots of things like my shoes and my bed were damaged or lost, and I was forced to sleep at a neighbor’s house. I sometimes cry from all the work. My neighbors were unable to help me, but my cousins, who live nearby, came and helped me clean up. I can’t imagine cleaning all of that mud alone. I also have some amazing friends who helped me bring in fresh water for the clean-up. My grandma and I are feeling very traumatized, and I can’t sleep at night now thinking about the flooding and all the mud.


Covid-19 and the floods

The floods have also exacerbated the problem of community transmission of Covid-19. When the floods hit, Dili was following strict home confinement regulations from the government. The evacuations have forced a lot of people who were self-isolating or in quarantine back into the general population, and this has led to a large rise in the number of cases. Despite best efforts, social distancing has been hard to maintain at the crowded evacuation centers, and the government has temporarily suspended its regulations while people are recovering from the floods. Since the flooding, cases of Covid-19 have increased to more than a thousand, and that number is expected to grow.


The Asia Foundation in Timor-Leste can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation. Support victims of the recent floods. 


Related locations: Timor-Leste


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