East Timor (Timor Leste) is one of the least developed countries in the world, with levels of basic health, literacy and income similar to sub-Saharan Africa.
East Timor: the facts
Between 1975 and 1999, during the Indonesia occupation, approximately 100,000 to 250,000 East Timorese were killed . A UN-backed referendum resulted in East Timor's independence, but anti-independence militias killed 1,400 Timorese and displaced 75 percent of the population before peacekeeping forces could arrive. Unrest left most of the country’s infrastructure, including housing, irrigation, drinking water systems, schools and almost the entire electricity grid destroyed.
Domestic unrest in 2006 led to the displacement of a further 150,000 people, some of whom remain in refugee camps even today. Unresolved political and social tensions contribute to the continued instability and uncertainty of East Timor's future.
Today over 75 percent of East Timorese live in rural areas, and 37 percent live on less than $1.25 per day (UN 2008). Most are subsistence farmers with plots too small to support their families and over 80 percent of households subsequently don’t have enough food for approximately two months a year.
Malaria and tuberculosis are common and low immunisation rates contribute to a high infant mortality rate of 56 deaths per 1,000 live births (UN 2010). Adult literacy is only 51 percent (UN 2007).
The future of East Timor, however, is promising. Income from offshore oil and gas has the potential to fund the country’s development, and the improving economy has seen improvements in poverty rates.
Our work in East Timor
Caritas Australia is supporting 5 programs in East Timor with 55 local grassroots community organisations across the country. Our work covers a wide range of issues including peacebuilding and reconciliation, climate change adaption, food and water security, sustainable agriculture and institutional strengthening of many community-based organisations.
Examples of our recent work
- Women’s groups in 5 villages were trained in food processing. Subsequent increases in income led to improved household nutrition and health, and access to education.
- Sustainable gardens grew by 40% and improved soil fertility in vegetable gardens increased production by 10% in Oecusse, 2011.
- Communities have been provided with 27,931 tree seedlings from 27 nurseries. They are implementing alternative sloping land gardening methods to increase soil fertility, reduce erosion, establish stabilising food and forestry plantations, and increase production.
- Fish farming practices have been introduced in 5 coastal communities. Some families report increased income in the few months of the program.
- Environment-focused youth groups have been formed in 13 remote villages They work in collaboration with the Integrated Rural Community Development program to educate future farmers about the current and future climate conditions, recycling, composting, waterway and land/soil protection, sanitation etc. 98 youth took part in various environmental walks to view these problems and solutions.