UN aid official in Timor-Leste helps launch employment programme for the homeless

Some of the thousands displaced in Timor-Leste

21 July 2006 – The top United Nations aid official in Timor-Leste helped formally launch an employment programme today for some of the estimated 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the population, who were forced to flee their homes after violence erupted in the tiny nation in April.

The project, called ‘Servi Nasaun’ (Serve the Nation) has the dual purpose of providing employment to these internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are huddled into makeshift campsites and boarding with host families throughout the country, while at the same time cleaning up the neighbourhoods to which they will eventually return, the UN said.

“The UN Country Team fully supports the Government’s plan to encourage IDPs to return to their homes on a voluntary basis. I hope that the Servi Nasaun project will be able to contribute to this process through providing the sense of normality to the affected populations,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Timor-Leste, Finn Reske-Nielsen.

Sponsored by Australia, Japan and Sweden, and supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labour Organization the programme has already employed 2,200 people since it began three weeks ago, but the Government timed today’s ceremonial launch to allow for the participation of the new Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, and other ministers.

The workers, mostly youths, are paid $2-a-day, which is near the average salary in Timor-Leste, to work on such neighbourhood improving projects as street sweeping, beach clearing, and garbage removal.

Also on the humanitarian front, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that a new survey of towns and villages outside the capital Dili showed that since the current crisis, almost three quarters of these have not received any water or sanitation support from international aid organizations.

Among several findings, the survey showed that families that are hosting IDPs have an average of five IDPs per household and 97 per cent of respondents choose to treat their water by boiling it.

UNICEF also reported that its Regional Director for East Asia & Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh will arrive in Dili on Sunday for a four-day visit to review its emergency response over the last three months.

Earlier this week the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Timor-Leste, Ian Martin, said it is important for the international community to realize that the tiny nation needs a sustained, long-term commitment. The mandate of the small UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) runs until 20 August.

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