One of the themes common to countries struggling with poverty is the ability for the population to have access to clean water and sanitation. The people of Timor-Leste are no different to the millions of others around the world who battle with this problem daily. Water quality in Timor-Leste is concerning, compounding many of the issues the country faces.
In Timor-Leste, the majority of fresh water comes from two sources, groundwater and surface water. Often abundant in areas, groundwater is largely underutilized in the country, whether down to a lack of finance, technology or other insurmountable problems. Surface water, on the other hand, is far easier to acquire, yet it also has a number of problems attached to it.
The issues associated with groundwater can be attributed to several factors. A lack of funding for initial development of water supply presents a large obstacle. The unavailability of spare parts for maintenance is another issue, particularly in rural areas. A third problem is the lack of technical knowledge within the country to successfully implement such plans.
Those who gather water from the surface are often faced with a different set of problems. A recent WHO study into water quality in Timor-Leste showed that as much as 70 percent of water sources were contaminated with microbiological entities, often holding potential for spreading diseases such as typhoid and cholera. Contaminations such as this are partly the result of a lack of effective sewage systems, with much of the country’s waste being disposed of in rivers and fields.
The lack of access to clean water has created additional strain on the limited healthcare system in Timor-Leste. Respiratory illness is widespread, as are malaria and dengue fever, with water quality often cited as the problem. For young children, diarrhoeal diseases, the largest killer of those under five, are similarly common, often causing complications which can have long-term negative effects on the younger population.
Despite these problems, however, progress has been made with several organizations targeting the water problem in Timor-Leste as part of their global strategies. Water Aid has trained many Timorese in servicing water points, enabling expertise, which allows the people to become self-sufficient. Its efforts in recent years have enabled 2,672 people to access clean water.
In addition, the World Health Organisation has provided support for studies, in collaboration with other NGOs, governments and Timorese societies. They have also supported the training of the populous in water safety processes. Through the assistance of UNICEF and the European Union, more than 37,000 people across multiple districts were given access to clean water through the installation of new water supply systems. Training into the managing and maintenance of these systems was also provided, enabling autonomy for the people of these districts.
The problems facing Timor-Leste are no doubt difficult to overcome. A government target for 2020 will cost an estimated $40 million each year to attain. In spite of this cost, however, steps do appear to be being made to ensure water quality in Timor-Leste in future years.
– Gavin Callander