Since Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002, it has made significant improvements in economic and human development. At the same time, while hunger in Timor-Leste has decreased, rates of malnutrition and stunting are still the highest in Asia. The U.N. has provided assistance aimed at stabilizing the government since 2006.
- According to Oxfam Australia, 41 percent of people in Timor-Leste live on less than $1.25 a day. Timor-Leste ranks very poorly in GDP and GDP per capita, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. A weak economy and an unstable political environment have made it difficult for residents of Timor-Leste to escape extreme poverty and hunger.
- Timor-Leste is a small country with only 1.13 million inhabitants, of which 74 percent live in rural areas. Because residents often depend on local agriculture to supplement their diet, the high instances of drought, flooding and cyclones in Timor-Leste lead to food insecurity.
- Persistent food insecurity and hunger in Timor-Leste have resulted in high rates of malnutrition among Timorese youth and adults. In fact, UNICEF reports that 58.1 percent of the population suffers from moderate and severe stunting, affecting the growth of many children and young adults.
- Life expectancy for the Timorese population is about 69 years, up from about 61 years in 2002. This increase is largely attributable to reductions in poverty through foreign aid that has led to an increase in the availability of food.
- In 2014, Timor-Leste became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to adopt the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge. The program aims to eliminate food insecurity and childhood stunting by improving food infrastructure, increasing the productivity and income of small farm-owners, and lessening food waste.
- Since 1999, the World Food Program has provided supplemental nutrition for the most vulnerable Timorese and worked to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. Eventually, the U.N. hopes to turn the supplementary feeding program over to the government of Timor-Leste.
A recent report by the World Bank indicates that Timor-Leste has made significant strides in reducing poverty and projects that the economy will rebound with high growth rates in the coming years. As more Timorese escape poverty, continued foreign aid will be key to sustaining development and reducing hunger in Timor-Leste.
– Yosef Gross