Timor-Leste at a Glance
Population: 1.3 Million (2020)
Major Threats: Floods, Drought, Cyclones, Earthquakes
Populations Affected: Rural Communities
Locations Affected: Bobonaro, Dili, Aileu, Manatuto, Oecussi, Ainaro
Industries Affected: Agriculture, Transportation, Infrastructure
Compounding Issues: Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental Degradation, Livelihoods
World Risk Index Ranking: 10
Timor-Leste, situated near northern Australia, gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002. Despite its small size, the nation has a history marred by conflicts that have left it vulnerable to economic challenges, hazards, and natural disasters.
In the two decades since its independence, Timor-Leste has encountered numerous disasters, resulting in loss of life and damage to infrastructure. The government is currently grappling with the task of implementing effective Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) practices. Although a national agency has been established for disaster risk mapping, mitigating and reducing the impact on victims remains a formidable challenge.
Major Threats and Economy
Timor-Leste’s economic growth lags behind many other Southeast Asian countries, heavily reliant on petroleum and imports from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia. When disasters strike, the nation’s limited financial resources exacerbate the economic fallout.
Unsustainable agricultural practices and resource extraction have led to food and livestock shortages, and the country is classified as one of the least developed, with high unemployment rates.
Climate Change Impacts
The heightened risk of climate change threatens agriculture, public health, water resources, and livelihoods, resulting in harvest losses and increased poverty. Rural populations are particularly vulnerable to the multifaceted impacts of climate change, forcing communities to rebuild from the ground up after each disaster, leaving them feeling isolated and underserved.
Timor-Leste faces various hydrometeorological challenges, including:
- Cyclones and Floods: Timor-Leste experienced a destructive flood last year triggered by a cyclone, resulting in significant damage to critical infrastructure such as bridges and roads.
- Drought: Drought is an annual and persistent challenge in Timor-Leste, impacting thousands of farmers and causing substantial harvest losses. Access to water is severely affected, and the government’s response to such disasters tends to be sluggish.
- Heavy Rains and Cyclones: Heavy rains and cyclones, often accompanied by storm surges, pose a continuous threat to communities in Timor-Leste. These events have led to the flooding of thousands of houses, with water levels rising up to 2 to 3 meters.
Adaptation and Local Context
At all levels of government, Timor-Leste faces significant challenges in effectively responding to a range of hazards. Prioritizing comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) planning, in collaboration with NGOs and community-based organizations, is imperative for addressing climate change adaptation in Timor-Leste. The government has established the National Disaster Risk Management Plan (NDRMP) and District Disaster Management Committees (DDMC), which operate independently and receive direct funding from the Ministry of Finance annually.
The government has allocated a budget to respond to disasters, but this fund often falls short of covering all necessary DRR activities, resulting in a reactive approach rather than proactive mitigation planning. Additionally, international NGOs focused on DRR are constrained by donor regulations, limiting the time and resources available for immediate disaster response and mitigating only the most pressing risks to residents.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
Several donors, including Plan International and Mercy Corps, are actively engaged in DRR programs in Timor-Leste. These donors have the potential to effect positive change and support sustainable development in targeted areas. Opportunities for collaboration and impact include aligning with civil society organizations, improving government institution capacity, promoting hyper-local DRR solutions, and providing more flexible funding options.