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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

Sanitation in Niger
Niger is the largest country in West Africa. It is officially named the Republic of the Niger after the famous Niger River. While rates like school enrollment, global economic prospects and life expectancy at birth are estimated to increase in the coming years, it still remains one of the most underdeveloped and poorest countries in the world. Access to proper sanitation still remains one of the largest issues affecting the nation. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Niger.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Niger

  1. In 2016, an estimated 70.8% of deaths were caused by a lack of safe drinking water or proper sanitation. Other leading causes of death include influenza and pneumonia accounting for 27,892 deaths, diarrheal diseases accounting for 16,180 deaths and tuberculosis accounting for 3,842 deaths, all in 2017.
  2. Because of Niger’s quickly increasing population, any progress being made in the sanitation infrastructure and development has been slowed down by the number of people being born. In 2000, the population was around 11.4 million. By 2018, the population had grown to 22.5 million. Niger also has the highest birth rate in the world: in 2011, the birth rate was 7.6 births per woman per year.
  3. The droughts that Niger experienced in the past, from 1950 to around 1980, contributed to sanitation access issues and disease. This also led to lower crop yields, resulting in malnutrition.
  4. In Niger, there are 10 million people who cannot reach clean water. This is in part due to the fact that most of the people in Niger live in rural areas, not urbanized ones. In 2014, approximately 8.2 million people lived in the rural areas of the country that lacked proper sanitation infrastructure.
  5. In 2008, only 39% of the people living in rural areas had access to water, while 96% of the population in urban areas did. Also in 2008, only 4% of people living in rural areas had access to sanitation, while 34% had access to sanitation in urban areas.
  6. There are 18 million people without access to a toilet in the country. This issue of sanitation in Niger leads to open defecation, which also poses health issues. In 2017, 68% of people were practicing open defecation in the country.
  7. Lack of clean water results in 9,800 childhood deaths from diarrhea each year. In 2018, there were 83.7 childhood deaths per 1,000 children.
  8. Part of the reason many people lack access to sanitation in Niger is due to the country’s Water Access Sanitation and Hygiene Program (WASH), which needs to be improved. This is in part due to the rapidly growing population. The goals of WASH cannot keep up with the growth. The drastic differences in living conditions between the urban and rural populations also create complications.
  9. Although wells are dug for water, there are problems accessing them and with contamination. Some wells do not have proper liners, and therefore become contaminated and unusable for drinking. In other cases, women and children have to walk hundreds of miles just to access the water wells.
  10. Niger’s people face problems with diseases from water, especially cholera. The conditions of sanitation in Niger result in water contamination, which resulted in a cholera outbreak in the area from the years 1970 to 2006. In 2004, another outbreak led to 2,178 cases of cholera, resulting in 57 deaths. In 2006, Niger had yet another outbreak, leading to 1,121 cases and 79 deaths being reported.

The Good News

UNICEF is one of the main groups helping the government of Niger with the sanitation issues in the country. The group aims to help provide safer drinking water and better access to sanitation. Another group called Water Aid aims to provide clean water to those in need, along with access to toilets and hygiene. The nonprofit Wells Bring Hope focuses on drilling wells in the rural areas of Niger in order to supply clean drinking water. They also are promoting drip-farming in order to help farmers grow their crops.

While Niger is far from reaching its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and sanitation concerns are rampant throughout the country, especially in rural areas, there are groups making strides for the nation’s future. With these continued efforts, hopefully sanitation in Niger will improve.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in TanzaniaWater quality in Tanzania has been a struggle for the last several decades, despite government aims to address the issue head-on.

In 1971, the Tanzanian government established a Rural Water Supply Program in response to a desperate need for water in the poorest areas of the country. However, it was largely unsuccessful. The program was followed by the implementation of the National Water Policy in 1991, which also proved to be ineffective.

By 2003, the World Bank intervened in Tanzania’s national water crisis, threatening to take away funding and aid if the country did not privatize its water sources. Unfortunately, this only worsened the country’s water crisis. Since then, the water quality in Tanzania remains poor despite the government claiming that access to adequate water is a basic human right.

Currently, 23 million people in Tanzania do not have access to clean water. Due to limited access locally, women and children typically spend several hours a day collecting water. Often, women face violence in their attempt to travel long distances to find water.

Several other issues are faced by the local population in relation to water. The low quality of water means that citizens continue to be plagued with waterborne illnesses.  Only 15 percent of the population has access to toilets, contributing to health complications and diseases as well.

In spite of this, some policy implementations by the World Bank have proven to be somewhat successful in the last decade. The Water Sector Development Program has connected customers in urban areas to water supplies, built 539 new water points and provided 2.7 million urban residents with clean and safe drinking water by June 2014. Despite this, the most disenfranchised places in the country continue to struggle.

Organizations such as Water Aid are trying to combat the low water quality in Tanzania. Means of doing so include the use of moderately priced technologies that can have sustainable and long-term benefits.

For example, pumps often solve the issue of emptying latrines in slums. Similarly, mapping technology has the ability to record the location and condition of water areas throughout the country.

Water Aid continues to seek improvements to water quality in Tanzania. Currently, the organization is inviting drilling contractors to submit bids for a geophysical survey and drilling works for a Community Supply Scheme in Arusha, Tanzania.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr

menstruation in uganda
Menstruation is a major reason for young girls in Uganda to miss school. Reasons for their absence stems from the stigma associated with “that time of the month,” a lack of sanitary napkins and the limited facilities available to students. Attending school while on their period forces girls to put their health at risk and chance being the subject of humiliation.

In an interview with a Guardian reporter, 16-year-old Lydia from Kampala, Uganda expressed why going to school during her period is difficult. She explained that some of the toilets did not have doors, so that if someone walked in, they would see her. Her school also has only four toilets for 2,000 students.  The toilets’ inability to flush or have water complicates the issue further, making menstruation in Uganda a problem in multiple ways.

In a recent study by SNV, officials report that girls miss between 8 to 24 days of school per year while menstruating.

Some girls attempt to prevent their clothing from being ruined by trying to absorb the blood with old cloth or old t-shirts, but these methods are not particularly successful. In another interview, Auma Milly commented that disposable pads are very expensive and are often not available in the more rural regions. Consequently, she felt embarrassed when she went to school and would soil her clothes so often that she chose not to attend.

In an attempt to address the problem regarding women’s sanitary needs, organizations including Save the Children, WaterAid, the Institute of Reproductive Health and local NGO Caritas Lira have begun to raise awareness and assist the cause.  Representatives from WaterAid commented on the importance of deconstructing the taboo regarding women’s health. The founder of 50 Cents. Period. described the battle as giving girls the basic right to hygiene. SNV and Caritas Lira have gone to schools in order to teach girls how to make reusable, affordable pads. Additionally, female Ugandan government officials have begun advocating for reduced taxes on sanitary napkins and improved facilities so that menstruation does not interfere with education.

– Jordyn Horowitz

 

Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian 2, UWASNET, 50 Cents Period, UWASNET, , SNV
Photo: A Global Village