The Future is Equal

East Timor

Timor-Leste’s most destructive floods in recent memory likely worsened by climate change, as COVID-19 threat looms: Oxfam

Almost half of the population of Timor-Leste’s capital has been impacted by severe flooding, according to government figures, after heavy rains fell on Dili and nearby provinces last week. Cyclone Seroja took the people of Timor-Leste by surprise, with the small nation previously not within the range of such extreme weather events. Oxfam in Timor-Leste’s Associate Country Director, Annie Sloman, said the impact of climate change was undeniable.

“The combination of La Niña and climate change this year has resulted in extremely heavy rainfall, and more severe flooding than the Timorese are used to. Climate change is clearly exacerbating the intensity and impact of these disasters.”

At least 36 people were killed by the flooding and landslides caused by the rains, and 10 people remain missing. While thorough assessments are still being completed, the number of people impacted is expected to be more than 100,000, which is close to 10% of the country’s population.

“There’s been significant infrastructure damage, with a third of Dili’s water systems out. This means people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and the risk of water-borne diseases, like Dengue Fever and diarrhea, spreading is high.”

She said the growing risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in one of the 36 evacuation centres was a major concern.

“A high proportion of those who fled to evacuation centres remain there, because people are struggling to fix and clean their homes to make them habitable.”

Ms Sloman said most of those people are women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

“There are concerns about people following COVID-19 precautions: few are wearing masks, there is limited social distancing and there are challenges with accessing clean water for handwashing. The longer they stay there, the greater the risk of an outbreak among a highly vulnerable population.”

She said the impact of the emergency will be felt for a long time to come, due to the already high levels of poverty and limited access to support services.

“There is still water in some people’s homes. Not only have their possessions been ruined or damaged, but they have lost food, which was already in short supply due to COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain problems, and people who are informal workers have lost their income.

“Timor-Leste is one of the hungriest and poorest countries in the world – people’s ability to withstand the shock and bounce back is very low. That’s why the Government is asking for support to respond.”

Historically, Oxfam New Zealand has supported Timorese farmers to prepare for and deal with the impacts of climate change on their livelihoods, and currently Oxfam supports Timorese organisations as they work to protect the rights of women, those with disabilities and the rural poor, and bolster their ability to cope with climate breakdown.

In response to these destructive floods, Oxfam is working alongside local partners and the Timorese Government to assess the full impact of the floods, as well as to distribute much-needed items to those most in need in evacuation centres, such as tarpaulins, mattresses, blankets and sanitary products. Oxfam will also distribute items such as kitchen kits and food to support people to move back into their homes.

Media Contact:

Jo Spratt | Communications and Advocacy Director | Wellington, New Zealand | Joanna.spratt@oxfam.org.nz | 0210664210

Timor-Leste Emergency appeal

Your support is urgently needed for our neighbours in Timor-Leste. You can empower families in Timor-Leste to rebuild their lives after these devastating floods. Your donation can help to provide access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene at Evacuation Centres as well as improve access for people with disabilities to critical services. Your support today will ensure that this urgent life-saving work can happen.

Donate now

Profile: Anna Mosley, International Portfolio Manager

As a twenty-something backpacker with a love of languages, Anna Mosley explored remote pockets of China, Cambodia and Laos, piquing an interest in development work.  Now, fifteen years on, she has worked across Latin America and Asia supporting poor communities in remote regions. She tells us about her new role, her abiding love of Timor Leste and her desire to learn Vanuatu’s national language Bislama.

You’re new to Oxfam. What’s your new role?

I work on programmes that Oxfam New Zealand funds in Vanuatu and Timor-Leste with Oxfam’s offices in those countries. Oxfam is shifting the way it works so that decisions about programming are made by people locally. So my role is to liaise with the New Zealand government and other funders and to work with the country offices by applying my knowledge and experience of Timor-Leste, rural development, literacy education, data management and sound development programming.

How did you first get into development work?

I’ve always loved learning languages, but it took me a while to figure out that it was more than languages that interested me – it was the way language opens up windows into culture and how people live. Learning languages has allowed me to understand the issues people face in these countries at a deeper level. As I travelled through Southeast Asia, I met people working with development agencies, and realised that there was a career that would put my love of languages and my desire to understand people’s lives to good use. I thought: “that’s something worthwhile that I could give my life to”, so I headed back to New Zealand to get my Masters in Development Studies.

You first worked in Oaxaca in Southern Mexico after you completed your masters degree, how was that?

It was amazing – Oaxaca has sixteen different ethnicities in the state, many of them strong indigenous cultures with longstanding traditions of organisation and self-determination. After I finished my thesis I worked for a couple of local NGOs doing rural development work. We worked with communities that were four hours walk from the nearest road, so sometimes I would don my backpack and walk into these isolated communities. I remember being astonished that some people had refrigerators that they’d carried in on their backs!… I would stay for three days at a time, listening to the men, and then to the women, and developing community development plans. Roads were always top of the list! One community got a road while I was working there, others started beekeeping programmes, school holiday programmes for the kids, coffee co-operatives, and worm farms for waste management. I loved it! Later on I worked for the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and travelled to Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and ended up living in Timor-Leste for three years. And it’s been great to finally get to the Pacific now I’m working with Oxfam!

Timor-Leste is a country that is close to your heart, why’s that?

It has such a tragic history, and it’s been a privilege to get to understand it a little as a new country that’s charting its own development now, and has such potential to make good choices so that people can feel that all they went through was worth it. It was only when I lived there between 2011 and 2015 that I really began to understand people’s histories, and how things work in Timorese culture. It’s a fascinating and beautiful country. I was privileged to hear little bits of personal and national histories as I travelled around with Timorese colleagues, and hearing what had happened in different places changed the way I saw the landscape – maybe a little bit like how tangata whenua in New Zealand see their history embedded in the land. There are cliffs that were called ‘Jakarta’ because people who were thrown off by the Indonesian military were told they were “going to Jakarta.” At the same time, it was such a great place to live for me and my family – travelling to the beautiful and laid-back Atauro Island, or having brunch at the beach never got old.

What are some of one of the most eye-opening situations that you’ve been in?

In Timor-Leste, I went to visit a financial literacy programme for women running small businesses. It was only then that I began to understand the difficulties  involved in applying the training to their businesses.-Some of them women had been to primary school, others had never been to school.  Some would spend the lesson just practising writing down the numbers. Iit really hit home how hard it is to show the impact of our programmes, because they were all at different levels. The averages really hid the real stories.  Often you don’t understand these things unless you are immersed in the culture and society – and that’s why I think Oxfam’s approach, where decisions are made by the offices in the country concerned and our development programming is run by supporting local organisations, is the right one.

Seeing other peoples’ perspectives is crucial in your work. Do have you any examples of when you’ve come to see things from a different point of view?

Yes, in order to get to grips with development, you need a deep understanding of that culture and your own cultural blind-spots. For example, in the western world, it’s easy to take for granted the management model we’re used to but it’s not one that always works well in other places. Performance management, for example, can be a pretty fraught exercise in a small society where family relationships, status and belief in black magic all come into play, like in Timor Leste.

You’ve got five languages up your sleeve (Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Tetun and Mandarin). What language are you thinking of learning next?

It really has to be te reo, but I’m also tempted by Bislama, one of Vanuatu’s official languages… there are too many interesting languages and places in the world to stop at just one more.

Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is a nation comprising half of the island of Timor, in Southeast Asia. Timor-Leste is highly vulnerable to climate-related disasters, and is considered the seventh most disaster-prone country in the world. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of drought, landslides, and floods. Gender-based violence is prevalent across Timor-Leste and research shows that climate emergencies can lead to further increases in domestic violence.

Timor-Leste is home to about 1.3 million people and is one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line. According to the UNDP Human Development Report, Timor Leste is among the bottom six Asian countries with a low Human Development Index and the highest Multidimensional Poverty Index.

Although it is well-placed to serve the Asian market, there are many hurdles to establishing a thriving business in Timor-Leste, including poor roads and access to banking services. Agriculture dominates the economy, accounting for 15 percent of GDP and approximately 39 percent of employment. Insufficient food production and an under-developed local market have led to a dependency on imports of rice and other commodities. Malnutrition and poor health are widespread and most rural households suffer from food shortages for at least one month of the year.

One of the key issues facing the people of Timor-Leste is a lack of skills in key areas from government planning to community self-determination. Capacity to deliver essential services remains weak and the rebuilding of infrastructure and civil administration remains a huge challenge.

 

Quick facts from the World Bank, UN Human Development Report, and UNICEF:

  • Capital of Timor-Leste: Dili
  • Population: 1,343,875 (2022)
  • GDP per capita (USD): $1,442.73 (2021)
  • Human Development Index: 0.606, rank 141 (2021)
  • Language: Official languages are Portuguese and Tetum
  • Religion: Roman Catholic (97.6%)
  • Adult Literacy: 68.1 (2021)
  • Life expectancy: 69.5 years (2021)
  • Government: Republic
  • Access to safe water: 78% (2021)
  • Access to toilets: 60.4% (2021)
  • Access to electricity: 72.6% (2021)
  • Infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births): 37 (2021)
  • People living below the national poverty line: 41.8% (2021)
A woman waters her garden from a green watering can

KEY PROJECTS

A woman smiles as she sits beside a garden

Timor-Leste Women and Land Project 

In Timor-Leste, women’s mobility, security, advancement and voice are influenced by a range of highly restrictive patriarchal social norms. Women frequently have less control over the assets on which their livelihoods depend, especially land.

An important aspect of improving women’s land rights will be making sure that formal and informal leaders recognise the how important it is that women have these rights in the first place. 

A lady stares towards the camera near a plant

Timor-Leste Climate Finance Project

For climate finance to provide the best possible return and the most impact, it must get to where it is most needed. Women and other vulnerable groups in Timor-Leste have not yet been able to adequately, equitably and optimally access or benefit from climate finance.

To put it simply, for women to get more access to this funding, they need to be at the table when the decisions are being made.

Past projects

Oxfam’s IMPACT programme worked to support economic self-reliance and resilience in rural communities by helping farming businesses to thrive. Oxfam continues to support research into high-value crops, identifying market opportunities for candlenut, mung beans, red beans, shallots and onions. Oxfam’s training has increased production of these crops in Timor-Leste and has provided farmers with wrap-around support in production, processing and marketing, so they can get the best prices for their crops. This increased income helps to make essentials like education attainable for these families and helps break the cycle of poverty.

By supporting Oxfam you will:

  • Support local efforts to improve land rights in Timor-Leste to ensure more women own and control the land they farm
  • Contribute to local legal aid for women seeking to navigate land registration processes
  • Help educate farmers about their rights and how to protect them
  • Improve women’s access to climate finance
  • Ensure that there is greater transparency around how climate finance is used, especially in how it addresses the needs of women

The latest news:

East Timor

Timor-Leste Floods

Timor-Leste’s most destructive floods in recent memory likely worsened by climate change, as COVID-19 threat looms: Oxfam

Almost half of the population of Timor-Leste’s capital has been impacted by severe flooding, according to government figures, after heavy rains fell on Dili and nearby provinces last week. Cyclone Seroja took the people of Timor-Leste by surprise, with the small nation previously not within the range of such extreme … Read More
AnnaMosley_660.jpg

Profile: Anna Mosley, International Portfolio Manager

As a twenty-something backpacker with a love of languages, Anna Mosley explored remote pockets of China, Cambodia and Laos, piquing an interest in development work.  Now, fifteen years on, she has worked across Latin America and Asia supporting poor communities in remote regions. She tells us about her new role, … Read More