How Timor-Leste is fighting off the curse of climate change

20 September 2019

Recently climate change appears to be at the top of everyone’s agenda, except world leaders of course, and in July 2019 it was estimated that humanity only had 18 months to save our home planet.

Brits have enjoyed record breaking high temperatures this summer (38.7 degrees in Cambridge 25/07/2019), with people driving to sunbath at the beach in their new £1 bikini or splashing in swimming pools all over the country, comfortably far away from the first ever forest fires experienced in the Arctic Circle. Although we are constantly feeling the effects of climate change, it is easy for us to forget about it whilst we are filling up the grimy paddling pool for the fourth time this summer or lighting a BBQ to cook sausages and steaks.

Fortunately, first world countries have the provisions and economies to build the necessary infrastructure to protect themselves from the effects of climate change and global warming (for the time being anyway). For example, those with sea front homes on the Isle of Wight are able to build sea walls to defend themselves from the ever rising sea levels, however, the waters surrounding this small island aren’t much in comparison to the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean, where tiny islands and their inhabitants’ existence are currently facing imminent climate-related threats. People are hastily booking their holidays to the Maldives before the islands are swallowed up by the Indian Ocean completely.

With this in mind, for this month’s focus country, Timor-Leste, the reality of climate change is already happening. Over the last few decades the island has experienced drier dry seasons and wetter wet seasons, which for a country where almost 80 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming for survival, is far from comforting. These conditions are expected to continue and worsen.

An Australian study from 2012 reported that rising sea levels could cause the seawater

Working to take advantage of successful harvests, maximising food produce

to intrude on freshwater aquifers,  the island’s primary source of water for drinking, cooking and other domestic uses, causing permanent damage and potentially making the water unusable. The increasing population, urbanisation, economic and land-use change on Timor-Leste already puts pressure on these water resources.

The current climate-related threats that Timor-Leste is facing has pushed the government to ask for assistance in safeguarding its people. So in July 2019, the Global Green Climate Fund (GGC) approved a grant of $22.4 million (USD) for ‘Timor-Leste to advance its adaptation priorities while focusing on more resilient rural infrastructure and strengthening local infrastructure development planning process.’ Along with the grant from GGC, funds from the Government of Timor-Leste, various Ministries, and the UN Development Programme will assist in co-financing the 6 year long project, totalling  $59.4 million (USD).

The project is focusing on the six most at risk municipalities; Baucau, Ermera, Aileu, Vinqueque, Lautem and Liquica. These regions are expected to experience more frequent cyclones, river flooding, drought and landslides in the very near future. It was reported that Timor-Leste’s annual economic loss to natural disasters is around $250 million (USD). Additionally, it is predicted that heavy rainfall will decrease in frequency but increase in intensity, leading to some of the disasters listed above.

Already 130 climate proofed small-scale rural infrastructure units have been identified for implementation by the GGC. These include 38 water supply systems, 25 irrigation schemes, 216 kilometres of road and flood protection infrastructure, which seeks to benefit around 175,840 people in rural communities, 15 percent of Timor-Leste’s population.

Increasing the number and improving the quality of the roads will enable those who are geographically isolated, in the remote interior and coastal areas, to have easier and safer access to markets, schools, health and administrative services.

Additionally, over the six years, there is an objective to strengthen the natural ecosystems through reforestation. Timor-Leste’s Secretary of State for Environment, H.E. Demetrio Amaral Caravalho, states that this work is vital to protect the livelihoods of so many communities.

The project is set to begin in 2020 and run to the end of 2026 and is expected to benefit 522,000 people by increasing their resilience.

In light of the increasing difficulties of reliable harvests in Timor-Leste, it is hopeful to hear that HART’s partners, HIAM Health are educating rural communities on how to harvest and include nutritious foods, such as the moringa plant into their diet. The moringa plant can be harvested every 40 days which means more opportunities for a successful harvest. The plant is rich in nutrients and is seen to be a miracle for the grave issue of stunting and malnutrition in the country.

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