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Climate Change, Global Credit Crisis Deepen Poverty and Hunger in East Timor


Aid agencies warn that East Timor faces a food crisis and more than half of its youngest children are going hungry as global food prices soar. A new survey reveals that more than 70 percent of households across East Timor are unable to find enough to eat each day for almost half the year. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

A group of international aid organizations says that East Timor's "hungry season", which usually lasts for a couple of months, now extends for almost half of the year.

The number of children under age five suffering from chronic malnutrition has hit as high as 59 percent in many areas. In some districts the food crisis has touched 90 percent of households.

Aid workers say the global financial meltdown has contributed to the problem, as jobs are lost and donors cut back aid, while food prices have spiraled upward. Charities estimate that an extra 100 million people have been pushed closer to hunger in other parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa, as well.

Andrew Hewett, the executive director of Oxfam Australia, says changing weather patterns have cut into East Timor's harvests.

"We are finding that climate change is causing problems for people's livelihoods and people's food security in that country," Hewett said. "It was already a pretty desperate situation in East Timor. People were used to the idea that for at least a couple of months a year that they just did not have enough food. The problem is that that period has got greater."

Despite turmoil in international financial markets, charities urge wealthier countries to support emergency food programs.

Aid workers have reported similar problems in Cambodia and the Solomon Islands, where children are increasingly surviving on just one meal a day.

It has been a hard road for East Timor since independence from Indonesia in 2002. It suffers ethnic and regional divisions, and youth unemployment is above 60 percent.

In addition, a rebellion by disaffected soldiers in 2006 triggered violence that killed more than 30 people and forced 150,000 residents from their homes. Thousands remain in refugee camps.