Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2011 10:12:25 +0200 (METDST)

DILI, East Timor, Aug 30, 2011 (AFP) - A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck deep beneath the seabed near East Timor on Tuesday but no tsunami warning was issued, a local geophysics agency said.

The quake hit at 13:57 pm (0657 GMT) at a depth of 469 kilometres (291 miles), about 271 kilometres northeast of the capital, Dili, according to Indonesia's geophysics agency. "We did not issue a tsunami warning. There are no reports of damage so far," said Novita, an official at Indonesia's national quake centre. "The quake was felt by the people in Timor island, but not strongly," she said.

Hotel residents in Dili ran out of their buildings when they felt the quake, but there were no reports of damage. East Timor sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity.
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2011 00:10:39 +0200 (METDST)

JAKARTA, April 27, 2011 (AFP) - A shallow earthquake measuring just one kilometre deep rattled East Timor early on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.   The epicentre of the 5.6-magnitude quake, which hit at 5:43 am (2143 GMT Tuesday), was 45 kilometres (28 miles) south of the capital Dili, USGS said.   East Timor sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity, and the archipelago is frequently struck by powerful earthquakes.
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 04:27:04 +0200 (METDST)
by Stephen Coates

DILI ROCK, East Timor, Oct 21, 2010 (AFP) - He wanted to find a blue-ringed octopus. She was looking for a certain eel. Together the self-confessed "spoiled Americans" flew 30 hours to Asia's newest country, East Timor, and found neither.   But scuba divers Brian and Gina Blackburn, from Houston, weren't disappointed -- they found new wonders which both amazed and humbled them.   "In the Caribbean, finding fan coral that big is impossible because the tourists have destroyed it," Gina said as she dried off after a dive last week within sight of Dili's ramshackle airport.    "We wanted to come here because it's undeveloped, people haven't been diving on it, it's undamaged and pristine. Our favourite, because we don't get it in the Caribbean, is all that soft coral."

The Blackburns were among around 30 mainly amateur photographers who took part in East Timor's inaugural scuba photo competition from October 11 to 15 -- President Jose Ramos-Horta's latest project to kick-start tourism in his tiny, fragile state.  It follows last year's inaugural Tour de Timor cycling race, the Dili Marathon and an international game fishing competition -- not bad for a country that barely managed to field an Olympic team in Sydney in 2000, a year after its bloody vote for independence from Indonesia.   Scores of thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal 24-year occupation, aspects of which were depicted in the recent film "Balibo".   Events like the photo competition help to "reassure people that the situation in East Timor is peaceful, that it is safe," Ramos-Horta told AFP.   "Anyone who is involved in diving will have read already about the potential in Timor, because there are not too many places left on earth that are unexplored."
-- In search of Rhinopias --
Words like "unexplored" and "pristine" were heard frequently around the scuba shops of Dili as the photographers -- from countries including Australia, China, England, Italy, Singapore and South Korea -- returned from their dives.   Another word on many competitors' lips was Rhinopias, or Rhinopias frondosa to be exact -- a poisonous and bizarre-looking creature commonly known as a weedy scorpionfish.    It's the sort of thing that excites experienced divers -- Taiwanese enthusiasts, for example, were in a froth about them earlier this year. The reefs around Dili seem to have more than their fair share.   "Some people will travel thousands of kilometres (miles) to see these kinds of scorpionfish," explained Edoardo Spacca, an Italian criminologist who spends three months a year diving in Asia.

The amateur underwater photographer described East Timor's marine attractions as "very special".   "It's the concentration of corals and different species of animals all packed in one place -- it's unique. The coral is incredibly healthy. It's really beautiful.   "There's been some massive coral bleaching around Asia but I didn't see any here," he added.    Dili-based divers say this is because deep trenches around Timor carry cooler water and protect the island's corals from the higher temperatures which have triggered massive bleaching events across Asia this year.   The impoverished, aid-dependent state of about one million people lies on the southern fringe of an area known as the Coral Triangle, home to some of the richest biodiversity on the planet.   Experts say the region of Southeast Asia, stretching from Sumatra in the west to the Philippines in the north and the Solomons in the east, contains 75 percent of the world's coral species.   But they fear that if the climate warms at the rate many scientists expect, it could be gone by the end of the century, robbing more than 100 million people of their livelihoods and destroying a nature-based tourism industry worth an estimated 12 billion dollars a year.
-- Development vs environment --

East Timor is hoping to capture a slice of that market before time runs out, not on the reefs but on the UN mission (UNMIT) in the country, whose more than 1,500 well-heeled personnel form the backbone of the local economy.   "When the UN completely pulls out by the end of 2012... there will be hundreds of highly paid UN personnel who will leave," Ramos-Horta explained.   "So we have to create new demand and we do that by promoting tourism... (and) by bringing in investors."

Brian Blackburn said the poverty around Dili "breaks your heart", and while he agreed the country desperately needed development he hoped a balance could be struck between tourism, the environment and the local way of life.   "What it needs to do to attract tourists is what you don't want it to do. It needs big Hyatt resorts right on the beach, with everything paved and none of this dirt road stuff," he said.    "But that's not what you want -- that's not East Timor."   Gina said the couple's East Timor adventure was a radical departure from their usual holidays in Caribbean resorts.   "It makes us more appreciative of what we have, and realise how spoiled we are compared to them (the East Timorese). Americans have it all but we're not smiling. They have nothing but they laugh. They're happy people," she said.   For images and information on the prize winners, check the official website:
Date: Sat, 16 Oct 2010 18:46:39 +0200 (METDST)

JAKARTA, Oct 17, 2010 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Sunday near East Timor, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, but there were no immediate reports of damage to the island nation.   The quake hit at 12:44 am (15:44 GMT Saturday) 138 kilometres (86 miles) from the capital Dili at a shallow depth of 20 kilometres, the report said.   No tsunami bulletin had been issued, according to the USGS website.

East Timor sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity, and the archipelago is frequently struck by powerful earthquakes.
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 03:25:41 +0100 (MET)
by Matt Crook

DILI, Dec 31, 2009 (AFP) - The tiny nation of East Timor could face a deadly AIDS epidemic, with promiscuity among youths, low condom use and general ignorance leading to a sharp increase in reported cases, doctors said.   "Most likely it will be a disaster in the near future," said Dr. Daniel Murphy, founder of Bairo Pite Clinic, one of four voluntary AIDS testing centres in Dili.   East Timor is considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but government statistics point to a significant increase in the number of registered cases, rising from six in 2003 to 117 in April this year -- a 20-fold leap.

The actual number of people living with HIV in East Timor, however, could be much higher as many people don't get tested, Murphy said.   "They think they have it under control," he said, criticising complacency in the government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, a former guerrilla and hero of the struggle for independence from Indonesia.   "They should be going around the country and screening everyone. The benefit of being tested is you can get to grips with the epidemic and start therapy earlier and slow the spread down."

A 2004 study compiled by Family Health International found an HIV prevalence of three percent among female sex workers in deeply Catholic East Timor and one percent among men who have sex with men.    The study found that a lot of men who had unprotected anal sex with other men also had sex with women.   But knowledge of HIV did not equate to safe sex, it found. About 40 percent of sex workers didn't know what a condom was while none asked clients to use one.

More than 40 percent of East Timor's population of 1.1 million are under 15 years of age. Women have, on average, eight children, while about 40 percent of men in East Timor are illiterate, and misconceptions about HIV are rife.
-- A generation in need --
Of the 117 registered HIV cases, most were transmitted through heterosexual activity and the most affected demographic is 15-29-year-olds, health ministry HIV/AIDS officer Narciso Fernandes said.   "Most young people have a misconception about the transmission of HIV," he said.

In 2006, a UNAIDS-funded survey found that only seven percent of respondents had ever used a condom. Some 57 percent didn't know how to use one and 35 percent were unaware condoms could prevent HIV.   A United Nations Children's Fund survey of more than 1,000 youths aged 15-25 in 2007 found that although 61 percent had heard of HIV, about half thought transmission could occur through mosquito bites or sharing clothes.    Only a quarter of those surveyed knew condoms could prevent HIV.   "This is why this is happening to the young people, because they don't get education," Fernandes said.

National Aids Commission member Francisco Jeronimo said data gathered from a loose network of organizations all over the country indicated the real rate of infection could be some 40 times higher than officially reported.   "The number of registered cases is about 120, but the estimate is in excess of 5,000," he told AFP.    "A lot of the work being done is to find those people who are being hidden from the official register to make sure we get the correct picture about the reality of the prevalence of this disease."   Kit Ming Leung, technical advisor on HIV/AIDS for the East Timor Red Cross, said the government should rethink its strategy, adopted from successful campaigns in other Asian countries, of targeting high-risk groups.   "It seems many of the HIV cases that are being presented at hospitals are mostly not from high-risk groups," she said.   "My concern is that the current response model is looking primarily at high-risk groups and missing the general population -- particularly young people."
-- A hard route to acceptance --
For the people living with HIV in East Timor today, there are constant struggles. Many find themselves out of work and unable to support their families. 

Maria da Costa (not her real name) is HIV-positive and part of the Esperanza (Hope) group in Dili. Formed in 2004, the group is made up of about 50 people living with HIV who met through Bairo Pite Clinic, where they go for counselling and medication.   "The important thing is for the ministry of health and clinics to spread information to all the people and go to rural areas," da Costa, 34, said.   "It even happens that nurses will spread information to the neighbours of people diagnosed with HIV. They tell them not to go close to this family and not to play with their children. They think that if they play together they will get infected."   Da Costa's husband was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and died last year. One of their children, a six-year-old boy, has also tested positive.

The church's response is going to be crucial in East Timor, which is 95 percent Catholic.   Reverend Daniel Marcal works on the HIV/AIDS support programme of Church World Service, a charity formed by the National Council of Churches. He says loosened attitudes towards relationships, or "free sex", are commonplace.    "When I speak in the church, I say free sex is a sin, but I can't guarantee all my members will have the same view as me," he said.   "In East Timor, the government doesn't prioritise HIV. They prioritise dengue fever, tuberculosis and malaria.   "Now we are not taking the situation seriously enough to prevent it, so maybe more of the population of East Timor will soon be living with AIDS."
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