Isidoro Correia and Albert Lee in Ainaro
As the nippy Christmas air made way for the January chill, the folk of Ainaro District in Timor-Leste remarked what a good harvest they would have in 2006.
Upland and lowland patches of corn bristled with stalks of green - straight and upright, reaching toward the sun. Little did people think that, for four days this January, terrible cyclonic winds, called “aninbot” in Timor-Leste’s Tetun language, would descend on them to blow away the optimism.
Spawned by stormy weather off the western coast of Australia, the aninbot started its harangue on Ainaro on January 16. The district is hemmed partially by rugged mountains facing the Timor Sea and is directly on the receiving end of the peripheral winds of the Australian weather disturbance. The terrible nagging from the southern winds continued well into January 19.
“The winds came in fearful swirls and unpredictable twisters,” said villagers. “It was as if they were angry humans quarrelling with each other. There were loud grumbling noises from this direction and an equally angry swoosh from that direction - like the winds were howling and having arguments with each other.
“And when the twisters came, it was as if the winds were trying to punish each other, lifting debris and roofing sheets and flinging them perilously around.”
The Timor-Leste Red Cross, Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste, dispatched a disaster management team to Ainaro district to assess the damage. Initial reports from branch volunteers who ventured to the hamlets indicated that there could be at least ten upland and lowland villages affected by the aninbot.
In the face of the very obvious material damage caused by the destructive winds - roofs blown away, houses turned on their sides and infrastructure like power lines knocked down - the overriding concern was for the food situation in the coming months. Now it was clear there would no longer be the bountiful harvest that the people had looked forward to.
An old man sits in front of his patch of corn, now a jumbled collection of stalks pushed rudely to the ground as though by some cruel giant, saying he has lost most of his crop. His eyes well with emotion but he stoically refuses to release the tears, as if crying would wash away all hope.
The Timor-Leste Red Cross is coordinating with the country’s National
Disaster Management Office and started to mobilize assessment teams that would spread out in wide areas to collect accurate data on the extent of the damage and, more importantly, to find out how many people are affected. The aim is to launch a disaster response operation aimed at making sure people have enough to eat.
For now, the buzzword for the Ainaro disaster response is a four-letter word: food.