Safe water and sanitation

Oxfam has helped to establish gravity-fed systems in Mauubo B community, Liquica District.

East Timor (also known as Timor–Leste) is one of the poorest countries in the world. Occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999, the Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1999. The subsequent conflict as the Indonesian military withdrew from East Timor brought widespread destruction to the social and economic infrastructure of the country.

Even though the conflict has now ended, the country is still suffering from the repercussions of war, with the rebuilding of infrastructure remaining a huge challenge. Lack of access to water and sanitation infrastructure is one of the major problems facing the people of East Timor.

The problem

In East Timor, 71.9% of people have access to safe water and only 40.6% have access to sanitation (2015). Most of the water systems that exist no longer function due to poor maintenance and a lack of community ownership during construction.

Poverty levels in East Timor are stark, with 49.9% of the population living below the poverty line (2013). Oxfam believes that by combining access to safe water, improved sanitation and health education we can help reduce poverty, maximise health benefits and ensure the results are long-lasting and wide-reaching.

Reference: Statistics from The World Factbook and the Asian Development Bank Basic Statistics.

Our objectives

By encouraging community ownership of water resources and providing grassroots education, the programme seeks to provide a sustainable solution to the water and sanitation situation in East Timor. Our key objectives are:

  • To improve access to clean water and sanitation in by applying a mixture of low-cost technologies to improve infrastructure.
  • To improve hygiene practices by providing health education and raising community awareness of the importance of sanitation.
  • To enable communities to operate and maintain new water systems by establishing water and sanitation committees.

What we have achieved so far


Members of the Vatugili Water and Sanitation Committee are responsible for the maintenance of the systems.
Photo: Andy Thomson/Oxfam


Since the programme began in 2008, Gravity Flow Water Systems have been installed in Vatugili and Mauubo B villages. These systems ensure that clean, safe water is easily accessible for everyone in the community. Women have especially benefited from the programme. Women used to walk up to two and a half hours each day to collect water from the nearest spring; now they have more time for other activities.

Local water and sanitation committees

Fully operational toilets have also been installed for every household within these two villages. Prior to the project there were very few household toilets, with most people practising open defecation. The provision of toilets, combined with community health education, has provided the basis for dramatic improvements in the health of these communities.

We have also supported the formation of village water and sanitation committees. Their role is to promote the sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene education projects within the villages, and will ensure the longevity of this programme.

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