Homelessness in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, is a small nation located in the expansive seas of Southeast Asia. As one of the youngest countries in the world today, it holds its fair share of successes and problems. Homelessness in Timor-Leste is one of these problems, which is an issue common in many countries.

Homelessness in Timor-Leste is unique due to the several social, historical and political factors contributing to housing insecurity in this country. Though organizations such as UNICEF and United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) have implemented efforts to combat this quandary, much work still remains in order to eradicate homelessness. Listed below are eight facts about homelessness in Timor-Leste.

8 Facts About Homelessness in Timor-Leste

  1. Timor-Leste separated from Indonesia in 2002, making it the first country to gain independence in the 21st century. With this, the country had much to sacrifice. In 2006, factional fighting within Timor-Leste resulted in the loss of many lives and left as many as 150,000 citizens homeless.
  2. During the fight for independence, Timor-Leste faced many challenges in regard to housing security. In 1999, military turmoil caused the destruction of nearly 70% of the nation’s housing stock (approximately 85,000 houses). Though UNTAET was able to provide temporary shelters for displaced individuals, the government continuously struggled to fund and reconstruct housing to satisfy this high demand for permanent residences.
  3. Internal military conflict has also contributed to the displacement of individuals from their homes. By April 2008, the sporadic conflicts (including arson/looting) in the capital, Dili, had resulted in several thousands of people leaving their homes in fear of violence. A third of these displaced individuals remained in humanitarian camps within Dili, while the remaining people moved to rural districts.
  4. The effects of the 2006 crisis are longstanding. Between 1999 and 2013, the Timorese government and various NGOs/humanitarian organizations have helped move 92,000 displaced individuals into secure housing. Thousands still face uncertain futures in 80 resettlement camps across the country. As of 2015, approximately 22,000 individuals still reside in four main camps in the country and lack access to secure housing.
  5. Timor-Leste had vastly improved its policies in its initial response to the housing crisis. In December 2007, the government created a national recovery strategy, Hamutuk Hari’I Futuru (Together Building the Future), in order to overcome the 2006 displacement crisis. This allowed citizens to claim a $4,500 recovery grant to fix damages on their property. The government also offered transitional shelter to those who were open to temporary relocation. Overall, this strategy was fairly effective. By 2008, 28 camps in Dili closed.
  6. As of 2008, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Timorese government had built 667 transitional shelters. This offer improved living conditions and facilities (i.e. electricity, cooking facilities, etc.) previously unavailable at camps. Sanitary conditions also significantly improved. Though still prone to flooding/landslides, these shelters overall lessened possible disease outbreaks and vulnerabilities in displaced populations.
  7. By 2012, CARE and WaterAid implemented the MAKA’AS (Mudansa Klimatica iha Ambiente Seguru – Climate Change in a Secure Environment). This project aimed to improve resilience against the effects of environmental challenges for six villages in the Liquiça District of Timor-Leste. This allowed individuals to improve access to safe drinking water, improve sanitation in their homes and implement land management practices to reduce landslide risks/housing vulnerability. Between July 2012 and March 2015, this project had helped 1,525 households within the district.
  8. National poverty in Timor-Leste rate has declined from 50.4% in 2007 to 41.8% in 2014. Nationwide improvements to accessing basic needs, education and healthcare resources have allowed Timor-Leste to tackle poverty and homelessness at a faster rate than many other countries. In homes, electricity connection has jumped to 36% in 2007 to 72% in 2014. In this time, child education has also jumped from 58% to 83%. Since 2008, there have been continuous improvements in nationwide living standards due to changes in public policy and foreign aid.

As shown these facts show, the housing predicament in Timor-Leste is extremely complex and difficult to resolve quickly. While the Timorese government and various humanitarian organizations have made multiple commendable efforts to combat homelessness in the country, the issue requires more work.

The displacement of many individuals from their original homes has caused countless land and property disputes. Resolving these issues requires a sophisticated legal framework. Moreover, many displaced individuals lack secure work opportunities as well as access to basic health and social services.

While the displaced individuals remain strong and resilient through these times, additional legal, social and infrastructural changes must occur to provide long-term solutions to homelessness in Timor-Leste. Nevertheless, throughout the past 10 years, this country has made promising improvements in living standards for its citizens.

Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is one of the least-known countries in the world. Situated between Papua and Indonesian West Timor, Timor-Leste’s economy depends largely on the production of hydrocarbon from offshore natural gas. Most people living there do agricultural work harvesting corn, rice, coconuts, coffee and sweet potatoes. To produce additional income, locals create textiles and baskets, carved ivory, pottery and handicrafts. Politically, Timor-Leste has had a turbulent past. Independence from Indonesia came at a cost in 1999, with hundreds killed by militants. The territory became a sovereign state in May 2002 and since then the government has grappled with the issue of poverty.

Facts about Poverty in Timor-Leste:

1. Investments in Human Capital

Timor-Leste’s population is 1.3 million, of which about 42% are living in poverty, down from 50% in 2007. Standards of living have improved in the past decade, with the Human Capital Index, or investments in human capital, reaching 0.43 in 2017. However, the country still needs to increase earnings and train a more skilled workforce.

2. Health Care for Women and Children

For every 1,000 babies born in 2018, 46 will die within five years. Yet child mortality has decreased by 41% since 2013. Timor-Leste has also made strides in its maternal mortality rate, which has been reduced from 694 per 100,000 live births in 2000, to 142 in 2017.

It is important to note that the country has one of the youngest populations on earth. In 2015, 42% of the populace was made up of children ages 0 to 14. This has created a high dependency ratio of 82% for young people in the working-age population. Timor-Leste’s government has been making an effort to expand education and to help it is citizens be healthier. More progress is needed in terms of providing food to fight malnutrition and in maintaining the health of its children.

3. Big Strides in Education

The government has made significant efforts to educate children and the country is investing in building schools. From 2003 to 2015, the secondary school enrollment ratio went from 46.4% to 76.8%. Still, Timor-Leste needs to invest even more resources in its younger generation.

4. Access to Food

From 2016 to 2018, the prevalence of undernourishment was 24.9% and the rate of malnutrition in children under five was 9.9%. In response, the government has established feeding programs in schools and health centers.

5. Sustainable Infrastructure

In 2019, the World Bank created a Country Partnership Framework which will support Timor-Leste in using its natural resources for sustainable infrastructure. Its initiatives include investing in human capital and promoting gender equality; investing in the digital and transportation sectors; encouraging economic growth led by the private sector and promoting tourism and agribusiness. While these efforts are helping with poverty in Timor-Leste, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought gains in this area to a standstill.

The Pandemic has Slowed Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for Timor-Leste. According to the Global Health Observatory, there are only 59 hospital beds per 120,000 people. Complicating matters, only 5% of the country’s budget is dedicated to the health sector. Petroleum prices have dropped, and given its dependency on oil and trade, Timor-Leste’s per capita GDP could fall as low as negative 3.7% in 2020, and 4% in 2021. In addition, while the country has received medical support from UNICEF and other organizations, it will not receive as much help now, as countries are dealing with their own pandemic situations.

As of June 9, 2020, Timor-Leste’s government planned to give each home $15 in electricity credits and $100 per month. However, more needs to be done, since social and health services are limited, and over 40% of the populace is below the poverty line. It is the government’s hope that when the pandemic recedes, they will be able to pick up where they left off in the fight against poverty in Timor-Leste.

– Sarah Betuel

Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis in Timor-Leste
Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a bacterial disease that affects one’s lungs. The disease can cause symptoms such as coughing fits, sneezing, as well as troubled breathing; however, some people do not exhibit symptoms. Tuberculosis is an air-borne disease that can be exchanged through interacting with individuals who have tuberculosis, typically by either coughing or speaking.

There are also two different types of tuberculosis: latent TB infection and TB disease. Latent tuberculosis occurs when an individual has the bacteria that causes tuberculosis in their lungs but shows no active symptoms of tuberculosis; therefore, there is no spread of the bacteria. Tuberculosis disease refers to when an individual has the bacteria in their lungs and is showing symptoms due to the growth of the bacteria. The disease is typically treated through a mixture of different antibacterial medications, taken for six months to a year.

Though tuberculosis may not sound dangerous, there are some dangers for those who do not receive proper medical treatment. While TB does directly affect the lungs, the bacteria can also affect other organs such as the brain and kidneys, which can cause more concerning health issues like renal failure. Renal failure causes the kidneys to malfunction, so waste is not properly removed from the body. If not treated, tuberculosis can cause the lungs to be filled with fluid and blood and can ultimately result in death.

Which Countries are Most at Risk?

Timor-Leste, located in Southeast Asia, is one of the countries most affected by tuberculosis. Unfortunately, many people are not diagnosed, causing the disease to go on untreated. Timor-Leste has limited medical resources and supplies. As of 2017, the WHO estimates that for every 100,000 people in Timor-Leste, only 498 people are notified that they have tuberculosis, and 106 are killed annually.

83% of the treatment for tuberculosis in Timor-Leste comes with an enormous fee. Due to this, many are reluctant to be treated or even tested for tuberculosis in Timor-Leste. It is also estimated that in 2017, 46% of individuals living with tuberculosis in Timor-Leste have gone undiagnosed. Therefore, there is a dire need for education about tuberculosis in Timor-Leste. Many do not understand the disease or the medical treatment they are receiving and end up not completing the whole treatment.

What is Being Done to Help Timor-Leste?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), certain programs have been created across Southeast Asia to teach tuberculosis prevention. Overall, there are thirteen districts, each of which focused on a different campaign. Originally, the program was started to address the missing cases in Timor-Leste. The WHO has also implemented more test screenings and treatment. It hopes to execute the “TB Free Core Package” in which there will be more TB prevention, detection, treatment, and protection. This package would be focused on helping low-income families who cannot afford the hefty price tag that comes with TB treatment. As the WHO programs have reached thousands of individuals, there is hope to decrease the number of TB cases and better educate the Timor-Leste public on tuberculosis prevention.

The International Organization of Migration and UN Migration Agency are working with Timor-Leste’s health ministry to help fund more test screenings. Supporting the National Tuberculosis Program will allow screenings to become more available to the public; as of 2018, more than 6,000 individuals have had a screen test. Programs such as this pave the way for more partake in reducing the cases of tuberculosis in Timor-Leste.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is an island country in Southeast Asia. Portugal colonized the territory in the 16th century under the name of Portuguese Timor, retaining control until the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor declared independence on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, however, the Indonesian military invaded and occupied East Timor, leading to decades of devastating violent conflict between separatist groups and Indonesian officials.

After a referendum in which 78.5% of Timorese voted for independence, Indonesia renounced control of the region in 1999, and it obtained official sovereign state status on May 20, 2002, under the name of Timor-Leste. Yet years following independence, Timor-Leste remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Here is some information that illuminates some of the causes, realities and potential solutions to poverty in Timor-Leste.

Legacy of Violence

Timor-Leste’s history comprises of poverty and inequality. Estimates determine that over 100,000 Timorese perished during the Indonesian occupation due to starvation, disease and deadly conflict. This turmoil continued after Timor-Leste declared its independence; the Indonesian military responded violently, killing upwards of 2,000 pro-independence Timorese. As a result, many Timorese sought refuge in the mountains or in neighboring countries. The Indonesians’ brutality left the country traumatized and weak, with destroyed roads and ports, poor water and sanitation systems and little to no government facilities. Timor-Leste is still recovering from this devastation.

Poverty levels remain high. In 2014, an estimated 42% of Timorese lived in poverty — an overwhelmingly high proportion of the population. Though Timor-Leste only has a 4.6% unemployment rate, 21.8% of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. As a result, 24.9% of Timorese are malnourished, 51.7% of children under 5-years-old have stunted growth and 46 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of 5. Almost 40% of the population is illiterate, and the average age is 17.5 years.

Despite these facts, the country is making progress. Though a 42% poverty rate is high, this is a marked improvement over Timor-Leste’s 50.4% rate in 2007. Data demonstrates that Timor-Leste improved in various key poverty indicators between 2007 and 2014, including a reduction in the population living without electricity (64% to 28%), with poor sanitation (58% to 40%) and without access to clean drinking water (40% to 25%).

Aid for Timor-Leste

The international community has helped Timor-Leste develop and stabilize since its independence. The U.S. assists Timor-Leste via the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and a burgeoning Peace Corps program. Additionally, the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Corporation selected Timor-Leste for a five-year grant program in December 2017 to address the main contributors to poverty and stimulate economic growth. The U.S. then furthered its aid in 2018 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected Timor-Leste as a recipient of its $26 million, five-year McGovern-Dole nutrition and education program. Though there is little direct trade between Timor-Leste and the United States, the U.S. helped establish the coffee industry in East Timor in the 1990s, and Starbucks Coffee Company remains a loyal purchaser of Timorese coffee.

Timor-Leste also receives assistance from developed nations such as Australia, which has claimed the title of Timor-Leste’s largest development partner since the country gained independence. Australia allocated an estimated $100.7 million to Timor-Leste aid between 2019 and 2020.

There are a number of international nongovernmental organizations working to improve conditions in Timor-Leste. For example, Care International Timor-Leste works to improve disadvantaged families’ quality of education, safety of childbirth and resilience against natural disasters. Meanwhile, Water Aid aims to make clean water, reliable toilets and good hygiene universal, and Marie Stopes Timor-Leste offers Timorese family planning methods and sexual and reproductive health services.

COVID-19 is Hindering Progress

COVID-19 is a tragic setback to improvement. Due to early intervention and a mandatory quarantine, Timor-Leste has proved successful in preventing the spread of COVID-19. As of June 3, 2020, there were no active cases of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste since May 15, 2020, with an overall total of 24 cases and zero deaths. However, the strict lockdown has had wide-reaching political and social consequences for a country that was already in an economic recession prior to the pandemic. Many businesses either downsized or closed, resulting in a surge in unemployment rates. Though the government’s robust stimulus package has prevented catastrophe in the short term, its plans for long term recovery remain uncertain.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is a substantial setback to Timor-Leste’s development, the nation’s declining unemployment and poverty rates and improving living conditions are nonetheless promising. According to the World Bank, the next step in Timor-Leste’s fight against poverty is restructuring its spending. If Timor-Leste redirects investments into the development of sustainable agriculture and tourism, better transportation and improved preservation of its natural resources, it has the potential to avoid the devastating financial consequences of COVID-19 and eradicate extreme poverty.

Abby Tarwater
Photo: Wikimedia

Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a nation that occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor in Southeast Asia. With a population of 1.26 million people, Timor-Leste is one of the least populated countries in Asia. The Portuguese originally colonized the country in 1520. After declaring independence in 1975, Indonesia invaded the nation, which occupies the western half of the island. The Indonesian invasion brought violence, famine and disease to Timor-Leste, resulting in a large loss in population. After a majority of the Timorese population voted to become independent in 1999, Indonesia relinquished control and Timor-Leste moved under the supervision of the United Nations. The nation officially became independent in 2002, making it one of the newest nations in the world. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste outline the rapid improvement the country has made since Indonesian occupation and the issues it still needs to overcome.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste

  1. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased from 32.6 years in 1978 to 69.26 years in 2018, matching that of South Asia. The consistent improvement in life expectancy in the past decade is primarily due to the Ministry of Health’s public health interventions. Such interventions include the reconstruction of health facilities, expansion of community-based health programs and an increase in medical graduates in the workforce.
  2. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased despite a drop in GDP, which decreased from $6.67 billion in 2012 to $2.6 billion in 2018. However, Timor-Leste’s GDP rose by 2.8% from 2017 to 2018. Continued improvement in GDP and economic progress in the nation will only serve to increase life expectancy by providing more opportunities for employment, education and improved quality of life.
  3. Tuberculosis was the highest cause of death in 2014, causing 14.68% of deaths. In 2014, estimates determined that Timor-Leste had the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in Southeast Asia, and 46% of people with tuberculosis did not receive a diagnosis in 2017. Maluk Timor, an Australian and Timorese nonprofit committed to advancing primary health care, provides a service through which team members visit Timorese households to locate undiagnosed patients and raise awareness about the severity of tuberculosis in the community. The organization collaborates with the National TB Program and aims to eliminate suffering and deaths in Timor-Leste due to diseases that Australia, which is only one hour away, had already eliminated.
  4. Communicable diseases caused 60% of deaths in 2006 but decreased to causing 45.6% of deaths in 2016. While diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever remain a public health challenge, the incidence of malaria drastically declined from over 200,000 cases in 2006 to no cases in 2018 due to early diagnoses, quality surveillance, funding from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and support from the World Health Organization.
  5. The adult mortality rate decreased from 672.2 deaths per 1,000 people in 1977 to 168.9 deaths per 1,000 people in 2018. Additionally, the infant mortality rate decreased from 56.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 39.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018. While public health interventions and disease prevention contributed to the decrease in the adult mortality rate, Timor-Leste needs to expand access to maternal health services in rural areas to continue to improve the infant mortality rate.
  6. Maternal mortality decreased from 796 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 142 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. The leading cause of the high maternal mortality rate is poor access to reproductive health services, as only 43% of women had access to prenatal care in 2006. While the Ministry of Health continues to expand access to maternal health care through mobile health clinics that reach over 400 rural villages, only 30% of Timorese women gave birth with a health attendant present in 2013. Even as access increases, challenges such as family planning services, immunization, treatment for pneumonia and vitamin A supplementation remain for mothers in rural communities.
  7. The violent crisis for independence in 1999 destroyed more than 80% of health facilities. Despite rehabilitation efforts to rebuild the health system, many facilities at the district level either have limited or no access to water. However, the number of physicians per 1,000 people improved from 0.1 in 2004 to 0.7 in 2017. The capacity of the health care system is also improving, as UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in providing increased training for health care workers in maternal and newborn issues and in striving to improve evidence-based public health interventions.
  8. Timor-Leste has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. At least 50% of children suffered from malnutrition in 2013. Additionally, in 2018, 27% of the population experienced food deprivation. USAID activated both the Reinforce Basic Health Services Activity and Avansa Agrikultura Project from 2015-2020 to address the capacity of health workers to provide reproductive health care and the productivity of horticulture chains to stimulate economic growth in poor rural areas. Both projects aim to combat malnutrition by addressing prenatal health and encouraging a plant-based lifestyle that fuels the economy.
  9. Motherhood at young ages and education levels are key contributors to malnutrition, as 18% of women began bearing children by the age of 19 in 2017. Teenage girls are far more likely to experience malnourishment than older women in Timor-Leste, contributing to malnutrition in the child and therefore lowering life expectancy for both mother and child. As a result of malnutrition, 58% of children under 5 suffered from stunting in 2018. Additionally, findings determined that stunting levels depended on the wealth and education level of mothers. In fact, 63% of children whose mothers did not receive any formal education experienced stunting, while the number dropped to 53% in children whose mothers received a formal education.
  10. Education enrollment rates are increasing, as the net enrollment rate in secondary education increased from 40.5% in 2010 to 62.7% in 2018. Completion of secondary education links to higher life expectancy, especially in rural areas. Since 2010, Timor-Leste has increased spending on education. Additionally, local nonprofit Ba Futuru is working to train teachers to promote quality learning environments in high-need schools. After Ba Futuru worked with schools for nine months, students reported less physical punishment and an increase in innovative and engaging teaching methods in their classrooms. The organization serves over 10,000 students and provides scholarships for school supplies for hundreds of students. With more programs dedicated to increasing enrollment and the classroom environment, students are more likely to complete secondary education and increase both their quality of life and life expectancy.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste indicate an optimistic trend. Although malnutrition, disease and adequate access to health care remain prevalent issues in Timor-Leste, the nation’s life expectancy has rapidly increased since Indonesian occupation and has steadily improved its education and health care systems since its founding in 2002. To continue to improve life expectancy, Timor-Leste should continue to focus its efforts on improving public health access and community awareness in poor rural areas, and particularly to emphasize maternal health services to reduce both maternal and infant mortality rates. Despite being one of the newest nations in the world, Timor-Leste shows promise and progress.

Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr

Education in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste is a Southeastern Asian country occupying the east side of the island, Timor. The small country is home to a little more than 1 million people. Unfortunately, the literacy rate is only 67.5 percent. Improving the quality of education has been a struggle, but there has been significant progress in the past 18 years. Here are eight facts about education in Timor-Leste.

 8 Facts About Education in Timor-Leste

    1. By 2001, a year before gaining its independence, 90 percent of schools had been destroyed due to the violence and destruction that ensued from Indonesia’s rule over the country. These destroyed schools had once employed 6,000 teachers and educated 240,000 children. After Timor-Leste gained its independence, the country had to completely rebuild these institutions from the ground up.

    2. Because of the focus on rebuilding education, Timor-Leste was able to make quick progress. Between 2002 and 2014, enrollments went from 240,000 students enrolled to 364,000. The number of teachers doubled during this time, going from 6,000 to 12,000. Primary education enrollment increased from 68 percent in 2005 to 85 percent in 2008.

    3. Despite the increase in school enrollment, many young and adult Timorese lack the basic education needed to fully participate in society and contribute to the economy. Unfortunately, 27 percent of the adult population is semi-literate and 37 percent is completely illiterate.

    4. In 2010, the World Bank set up its Second Chance Education project to boost the number of out-of-school youth and adults who have access to an equivalency program to receive the education they missed. The Second Chance Education project ran from December 2010 to December 2015, supporting the Ministry of Education in Timor-Leste. Its major goals included training staff members, developing school curriculums and improving existing adult literacy programs. The same year, the government aimed to accelerate the completion of basic education for uneducated students due to lack of availability, while trying to build the education system back up. Government expenditure on education had increased from 13 percent in 2004 to 25 percent in 2010.

    5. The quality of education has room for improvement. About 70 percent of students in grade one could not read a single written word in Portuguese and the native Tetum language, the two most commonly spoken languages in the country. This, however, decreased to 40 percent by the end of grade two. Still, by the end of their second year of schooling, 40 percent of kids are still illiterate.

    6. Many teachers have only completed secondary school themselves. But with UNICEF supporting the Ministry of Education, teachers are trained in order to improve the quality of education. Teachers who have already gone through training have noticed that with their new direction toward teaching, students are more engaged and more conversation between instructor and student.

    7. There is a large gap between access to education between rural and urban areas. For urban residents, the enrollment rate for pre-secondary and secondary levels is 100 percent, while in rural areas, it is only 60 percent. Likewise, the literacy rate for youth ages 15-24 in urban sections of the country is 94.3 percent, but 78.5 in rural locations. The Education Management Information System works toward future teacher redistribution. This will place more teachers in rural areas in hopes of increasing the quality of education and bridging the gap between rural and urban.

    8. CARE’s Lafaek Education project provided “Lafaek Prima,” educational magazines written in Tetum, for 85,276 students in grades three and four. This builds off of what these students already learned in grades one and two; the content prepared in collaboration with teachers, educational staff and the government, ensures that the magazine is suitable for their students.

Despite working from the ground up, education in Timor-Leste has greatly improved since it gained its independence in 2002. The government has stepped in, as well as other organizations, to prioritize educational needs across the country. In the long term, this will assist the Timorese in climbing out of poverty.

Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Tourism Sector in Timor-Leste Oil accounts for 90 percent of Timor-Leste’s government revenue, but since 2017 the government has focused on diversifying the economy, attracting investors and developing its rising tourism industry. The small island country gained independence in 1999 and reduced its poverty rate from 50.4 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2014. It plans to develop the tourism sector in Timor-Leste in order to attract new visitors, increase revenue

and add jobs. USAID, Chemonics and private investors are seeing economic opportunity in the emerging tourism sector.

Benefits of Tourism Industry Investments

The benefits of developing the tourism sector in Timor-Leste include job creation and increased revenue. Poverty-reduction policies, health care and improved education are possible uses of much-needed revenue to the developing economy. The government’s goal is to attract 200,000 annual international tourists by 2030, which would generate $150 million and add 15,000 local jobs. For reference, total revenue for Timor-Leste was $300 million in 2017. Chemonics is currently working with the government and USAID’s Tourism for All Project to develop Timor-Leste’s tourism industry.

Since the tourism sector in Timor-Leste is new, one task stated by Peter Semone, chief of party for the USAID Tourism for All Project, is to explain the benefits of tourism to Timorese that might object to the rising tourism industry, especially in terms of its environmental impact. Marine tourism, particularly on Atauro Island, is expected to flourish once the tourism industry is further developed. One priority is convincing wary Timorese that the rising tourism industry means increased revenue to the government or directly through selling services and/or products.

Achievements by USAID’s Tourism for All Project

The USAID Tourism for All Project began in January 2018 and is slated to end in January 2021. Its goal is to expand and improve the Timorese tourism industry using a comprehensive and sustainable approach. The project costs $9 million and its focus is directed towards two main areas: ensuring laws, institutions and policies are in place to implement the national tourism policy that began in 2017, providing sustainable private sector tourism investments and participation by Timorese communities and replicating successful models for future use.

There are five major achievements of the USAID Tourism for All Project. One accomplishment of USAID’s coordination with the government of Timor-Leste is the registration for a Mt. Ramelau Tourism Partnership that is currently in progress. Mt. Ramelau is a sacred mountain and major tourist attraction. USAID also facilitated the process of Atauro Island residents creating a vision, mission and tourism action plan for the next three years and began registration for the Tourism Partnership of Atauro. Atauro Island is the most marine biodiverse location in the world. USAID and Timor-Leste anticipates a booming ecotourism industry on the island.

Grants programs were also launched under the project to encourage tourism entrepreneurs to invest in targeted areas. One final achievement is the establishment of a working group involving the Secretary of State for Arts and Culture, UNESCO and local non-governmental organizations for conservation and preservation of tais, a hand-woven textile used to make scarves and bags. Tais was proposed for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition.

Future Economy of Timor-Leste

Semone stated that “tourism is the base to improve the service industry and the culture of service in the country. It is also an excellent factor to foster the development of a private sector of SMEs but also a way to raise environmental consciousness for locals.” With the help of Chemonics, USAID and other organizations, Timor-Leste’s tourism sector shows promise in reaching the goal of attracting 150,000 international tourists and adding 15,000 by 2030.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste or East Timor, a small island between Indonesia and Australia, has struggled with gaining independence since its colonization in the 16th century. The long-standing political turmoil which placated the country throughout much of its history has impacted its economy. The overarching lack of access to raw materials, such as clean water, also depicts the nation’s struggling economy. Below is a list of 10 facts about living conditions in Timor-Leste.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Timor-Leste

  1. Housing: World Bank estimates from 2016 assumed that Timor-Leste’s economy and its building of national infrastructure would increase steadily over the subsequent three years. It predicted that the growth of the nation would decrease to four percent in 2017, bounce back up to five percent in 2018 and hit six percent in 2019. Unfortunately, the situation concerning Timor-Leste’s housing has remained stagnant. Most people’s houses consist of bamboo, wood and a thatched roof. People that live in urban areas are able to use concrete, which shows a divide in the living conditions in Timor-Leste.
  2. Education: Approximately 20 percent of preschool-aged children in Timor-Leste attend school and nearly 37 percent of young adults living in rural areas are illiterate compared to the six percent in urban areas. Sanitation and access to clean, drinkable water are sorely lacking in schools alone. In 2008, UNICEF began partnering with local agencies to end this issue. It advocated for the establishment of the Basic Law of Education in 2008, the Basic Education Law in 2010 and the National Policy Framework for Preschool Education in 2014 among others.

  3. Agriculture: Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of Timor Leste’s income; its main products include maize, rice and cassava. Very few of the farmers have access to sustainable technologies or practices that are necessary for efficient agricultural production. USAID implemented a plan to address this developmental disparity from 2013 to 2018 through its partnership with Developing Agricultural Communities (DAC). This partnership works with local sectors to teach horticulture technologies and the 349 participating farmers saw great results. Original participants saw their production increase by 183 percent and total revenue by 186 percent, while farmers new to the DAC increased production by 466 to 517 percent.

  4. Access to Food: Due to the heavy reliance on agriculture for survival and income, droughts and shortages of food production can result in high levels of starvation. The 2017 Global Hunger Index classifies Timor-Leste as suffering from high levels of malnutrition. Since 2001, the number of undernourished people has remained stagnant at 300,000. The Sustainable Agriculture Productivity Improvement Project (SAPIP) aims to improve incomes in addition to food and job security to the rural areas of Timor-Leste. It has a six-year-plan agreed upon by the World Bank and government in 2016 and predictions dictate that it should impact 16,500 households and approximately 100,000 people.

  5. Employment: While a majority of the population’s jobs consist of agriculture and farming, there is a huge job market in the science and technology fields. The employment rate is one of the highest that the country has seen in 10 years at 97 percent. This illustrates that while Timor-Leste may be a poor country, it has a lot of untapped potential.

  6. Medicine: Access to doctors and basic medicine has improved over recent years, but many rural communities still seek basic services. New organizations are currently emerging to improve supply chain management of pharmaceutical supplies. There are only 175 doctors that serve the entire population of Timor-Leste. Similar to the United States, citizens have a choice of whether to invest in private or public health care and the government monitors both.

  7. Mosquito-Borne Diseases: Although water surrounds Timor-Leste, the water conditions are poor which make it very easy to contract diseases. The lack of sanitation and regular garbage collection contribute to attracting mosquitoes. Dengue fever and malaria are two of the most common mosquito-borne diseases in Timor-Leste and both have a high mortality rate. Currently, there is no treatment for dengue fever in the area, but there are multiple courses of medical treatment available for malaria.

  8. Water Conditions: Timor-Leste is an island nation, but there is an overall lack of access to clean water that plagues much of the population. Access to clean water and toilets remain a constant issue in Timor-Leste as 353,000 people do not have access to clean water. Subsequently, over half of the population does not have a decent toilet which can lead to major health major issues. In fact, 65 children die each year from dirty water and unsanitary toilets. Women also suffer from managing menstruation, which can greatly inhibit their academic achievements and widen the blatant gender inequality within the country. WaterAid Australia is working tirelessly with the government to make clean water, toilets and good hygiene a part of daily life. The program, which started in 2015, has grown to support WASH delivery service projects in over 180 countries, providing services to approximately 25,000 people.

  9. Plan International: This organization works with various communities across Timor-Leste to provide access to clean water as well as to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing and waste management. Since 2011, it has built 32 village water supply systems which have benefited over 9,000 individuals.

  10. UNFPA Timor-Leste: Maternal health is an issue that has largely slipped through the cracks. In 2010, reports stated that for every 100,000 births in the country, 150 died from complications involving childbirth and pregnancy. Hemorrhaging, anemia, infections/sepsis, labor obstructions and unsafe abortions are the major causes of maternal death. Below are the four pillars that UNFPA works hard to ensure are available to all women:

    1. Modern Contraceptives: Birth control, condoms, etc.

    2. Antenatal care: Routine health screenings of pregnant women without symptoms in order to diagnose diseases or complicating obstetric conditions.

    3. Safe Delivery: A delivery in a medical setting or by a midwife, in which health professionals monitor both the mother and baby.

    4. Emergency Obstetric Care: Basic emergency obstetric and newborn care is critical to reducing maternal and neonatal death.

With the increase of birth rates and access to clean water and food, there is no question that progress is occurring in Timor-Leste. Improvements are slowly diminishing the fatal health issues in the country as these 10 facts about living conditions in Timor-Leste have illustrated.

Joanna Buoniconti
Photo: Flickr

Hunger and Malnutrition in Timor-Leste
Hunger and malnutrition in Timor-Leste are largely impacted by 41.8 percent of its population living on less than $1.54 a day, making it one of the poorest nations. Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is an island nation in Southeast Asia, between Indonesia and Australia. Additionally, only gaining its independence in 2002, it is one of the youngest nations. Among factors impacting hunger and malnutrition in Timor-Leste also include climate variability.

Rate of Hunger and Malnutrition

In the past decade, Timor-Leste has made substantial progress reducing it’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) from 46.9 percent in 2008 to 34.3 percent in 2017; however, hunger remains classified as a “serious” concern. Timor-Leste’s high levels of food insecurity, poor agricultural yields and low levels of disposable income directly contribute to this serious-level GHI.

Malnutrition and stunting levels in Timor-Leste are one of the highest in the world and have been persistent problems. Malnutrition in Timor-Leste is the leading cause of premature death and disability. Quality nutrition is especially crucial for pregnant women and children, up to the age of 2, ensuring proper growth.

That being said, anemia affects over 40 percent of children and 23 percent of women ages 15 to 49, inclusive of childbearing years. The percent of Timorese children under 5 years old with stunted growth in 2013 was 50.2 percent. This is a slight decrease from 55.7 percent in 2002. This shows some progression, but malnourishment and stunting are still at an alarming rate in Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste’s National Nutrition Strategy

Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health established its first National Nutrition Strategy in 2004. It introduces basic nutrition interventions and nation-wide goals. To increase the government’s effectiveness in addressing nutrition, UNICEF is providing technical support to the Ministry of Health, which has created the Timor-Leste National Nutrition Strategy of 2014-2019.

It is Timor-Leste’s largest nutrition policy, and its overall objective is to reduce malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency among children and women. Additionally, Timor-Leste became the first Asian Pacific country to join the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge in 2014 reaffirming their commitment to reach hunger and nutrition goals.

Intervention of USAID

USAID efforts are also working to combat hunger and malnutrition in Timor-Leste with 2 large programs. USAID’s Avansa Agrikultura Project works to increase agricultural productivity especially for vegetables, fruits and legumes. It also focuses on strengthening agricultural markets, food accessibility and sustainability in the midst of climate change.

Their other program, Reinforce Basic Health Services Activity, currently works to support Timor-Leste’s government in strengthening the skills of health workers to provide effective maternal and newborn healthcare.

Additional Interventions in Timor-Leste

Mother support groups are another common method to reduce malnutrition in Timor-Leste. A partnership between the European Union, UNICEF and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Health established these support groups to empower mothers and families by supporting them to seek care for their children and themselves.

Similarly, the World Food Programme (WFP) has nutrition programs aiming to improve mothers’ health and, in turn, their children’s health. One of their programs, Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) provides malnourished pregnant and nursing women with fortified meals and treatment. The WFP also has informational sessions on nutrition and cooking demonstrations. This aids in families learning more about the importance of and access to nutrition.

With the combination and collaboration of Timor-Leste’s government, national government organization’s (NGO’s), intergovernmental organizations and international aid, hunger and malnutrition in Timor-Leste are being broken down and addressed. These continued and intensified efforts provide hope for zero hunger Timor-Leste in the future.

– Camryn Lemke
Photo: Flickr

how the media misrepresents Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste is repeatedly referred to as a “tiny half-island nation of 1.2 million.” It is framed as an “impoverished country” that has fallen prey to the resource curse that so often afflicts countries with an oil-dependent economy. In the context of its current political transition, skepticism abounds regarding the country’s ability to rise above the temptations of corruption and combat the country’s high poverty rates.

Despite High Poverty, Timor-Leste Has Made Great Progress

Such media coverage fails to take into account the notable progress being made by this newly autonomous country. In order to avoid detracting from this progress, it is essential to garner an understanding of how the media misrepresents Timor-Leste —a nation whose independence was only recently obtained, after the turn of the 21st century. After centuries of Portuguese colonial occupation, the Timorese fought valiantly for their independence, only to be occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. This period of occupation lasted a little over a quarter of a century. In May 2002, Timor-Leste gained its independence.

Nearly two decades later, the media repeatedly employs statics in order to evaluate how the newly independent country is functioning. These statistics include a 40 percent poverty rate accompanied by a 60 percent unemployment rate. Highlighting standalone statistics is an example of how the media misrepresents Timor-Leste. This practice becomes problematic because these statistics are not representative of the progress being made.

While a poverty rate of 40 percent may appear grim, this statistic fails to account for the vast decline in poverty since 2001, which was an astonishing 71 percent. In a little over a decade, the number of people living in poverty dropped by roughly 44 percent. The poverty rate statistic also fails to represent the declining numbers of undernourished people. Between 2005 and 2007, the rate was 34 percent; by 2014, the rate was at 28.8 percent.

Despite its progress, the Timorese government does acknowledge that its poverty rates remain high. To combat this, Timor-Leste has partnered with the Asian Development Bank in order to invest in infrastructure. These large investments are being put towards road development, supplying clean water to urban centers and vocational education.

The Media Misrepresents Timor-Leste by Ignoring Its Peaceful Transitions of Power

Rather than reporting on the progress made by these development initiatives, the news about Timor-Leste focuses on the uncertainty—and in some cases violence—surrounding the recently held elections. This uncertainty is the result of the country’s history of frequent political instability. Particularly in 2006, political instability had disastrous consequences. That year, the prime minister was forced to resign from his post. His resignation was the outcome of expansive rioting that resulted in 150,000 deaths and displacements. It is natural that the Timorese would be concerned about a repeat of these events.

However, Giteroano Neves, a Timor-Leste policy analyst, points out that the political climate at that time was very different from the one today. Timor-Leste had just emerged from internal conflict and was experiencing an unexpected influx of oil revenues. Since then, Neves states that the country has been relatively stable.

From 2017 to 2018, the Freedom House Organization updated Timor-Leste’s freedom status from “partly free” to “free.” One of the factors influencing this change in status was the successful 2017 presidential and primary elections, in which the country amicably transferred power between political parties for the second time since independence. According to a European Union observer mission, the elections were “peaceful and generally well administered.” Furthermore, the winning parties are united on the next steps for the country.

The 2018 winning coalition, called the Parliamentary Majority Alliance, is comprised of both the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and the newly formed People’s Liberation Party (PLP). The PLP promotes investment in the basic needs of the people such as roads, water access, education and healthcare. The party as a whole is also in support of the investment in larger infrastructure projects, such as the South Coast Petroleum Corridor.

Economic Development a Bright Spot in Timor-Leste’s Future

Timor-Leste’s economy is highly dependent on its oil economy, which currently funds the vast majority of the state’s expenditures. However, oil revenues have been declining. Fortunately, the country was recently able to negotiate maritime borders with Australia, which provided Timor-Leste access to 70 to 80 percent of the Greater Sunrise gas field. Even with this acquisition, the country is expanding its efforts to grow other sectors of the economy, such as coffee and tourism.

By insistently reporting on Timor-Leste’s shortcomings, the media is overlooking the progress that is being made in the country. In order to avoid this oversight, poverty reduction supporters need to be aware of how the media misrepresents Timor-Leste. This misrepresentation detracts from the discussion on how current development endeavors could be made more effective. It fails to reveal an avenue in which external organizations can provide support for these development agendas. Worst of all, it demoralizes those working hardest to make improvements. Timor-Leste is still maturing; the focus should be on fostering this growth.

– Joanna Dooley
Photo: Flickr