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