MAF conducts aerial survey to assess flood damage in Timor Leste

Published: 21 Apr 2021

MAF and UNWFP staff plot the aerial survey route across Timor Leste

Following Timor Leste’s ‘worst flood in 40 years’ according to the UN’s World Food Programme, MAF conducted several flights in April to help assess the devastation. By air, MAF enabled the UNWFP and government officials to obtain good data in days rather than weeks to inform their emergency response…

At least 27 people have died in Timor Leste – also known as East Timor – when Cyclone Seroja hit the country on 4 April causing flash floods and mudslides.

Thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed by the floods

Dili, the capital, was hardest hit where 13 people lost their lives. Around 8,000 people have lost their homes and dozens more are still missing (source: The Guardian).

Homes and farms have been consumed by mudslides





Many houses and crops have been submerged in about five metres of dirty water.







Several main roads in Dili have been cut off due to heavy flooding. Nearly every office in the capital has been flooded – normal work has been suspended. Bridges and medical centres have been severely damaged and communication networks and electricity have been disrupted.

A main road adjoining a bridge across a river has crumbled into the water

According to the UN, some 3,000 people are sheltering in 11 evacuation centres across the capital.

This road (R) has completely collapsed





The Government of Timor Leste has declared a ‘State of Emergency’ and called for international assistance.







MAF aerial survey 'critical' to recovery

Map of aerial survey

With the help of MAF, the UN’s World Food Programme was able to determine the extent of agricultural and infrastructural damage in hard-to-reach areas.

MAF’s aerial survey – piloted by Jonathan Lowe and Ping Domtta - comprised of three assessment flights carried out between 16 and 21 April.

It took a total of 6 hours and 40 minutes to fly over the affected areas including Viqueque, Manatuto, Baucau, Manufahi, Ainaro, Covalima, Oecussi and Bobonaro.

UNWFP staff prepare to board MAF aircraft





MAF flew representatives from the UNWFP and government officials from the Ministry of Civil Protection, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of Planning and Territory and Ministry of Public Works as part of the aerial assessments.




According to data gathered from these flights, some 1,600 hectares of rice and 295 hectares of maize crops were damaged in six municipalities alone. Irrigation systems have been destroyed, which is devastating for local subsistence farmers.

MAF aircraft used for aerial survey

The data is crucial to the Government’s relief strategy as Joaquim Martins, Secretary of State for Civil Protection, explains:

‘These aerial assessments are critical in helping us understand the true extent of damage, not only in Dili but also in other districts. With the information generated, we can then determine our needs, set priorities, and design interventions going forward. We have been able to distribute life-saving relief to families affected by the floods within 48 hours.’

Dageng Liu, UN’s World Food Programme Country Director for Timor-Leste agrees that MAF has played a key role in the national disaster response:

‘MAF flights have enabled WFP and the Government to assess damage in days instead of weeks. I am pleased this partnership has made a positive contribution towards the country’s recovery from the devastating floods.’

Dageng Liu, UNWFP Country Director for Timor-Leste

With effect from 26 April, the UN’s World Food Programme and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation will conduct a crop and food security assessment to determine how the floods have impacted food security in the region.

Two passengers from emergency relief team pour over maps inside MAF aircraft

Covid-19 could be exacerbated

According to the UN, there are concerns that the disaster could hamper coronavirus prevention efforts, as the national medical storage facility was heavily flooded, and many medical supplies have been washed away.

Ultimate mud slide destroying everything in its path

A COVID-19 isolation facility was evacuated, and the national laboratory has also been affected.

Recovery and rebuilding continues in the region.

Emergency response team studying maps outside MAF office