Why Timor Leste?
There are many reasons that make the work of WithOnePlanet in Timor Leste particularly relevant and important for Australia.
Timor Leste is not only one of Australia’s nearest and poorest neighbours, but is also one of the most recently declared independent nations in the world, both of which facts create a special responsibility for us.
The people of Australia and the people of Timor Leste have personal relationships and stories that bind our countries that have been built on particular events in time going back to World War II through to issues that a currently being addressed in International Courts. For example:
- Australian troops received inestimable support and assistance from the people of East Timor in 1942 during World War II.
- Five Australian-based journalists, remembered as the Balibo Five, were killed in cold blood in 1975 during East Timor’s conflict with Indonesia.
- An Australian-led peacekeeping force helped restore order in 1999 following the violence associated with the independence struggle.
- Australia has provided significant aid to assist the Timorese rebuild their country after independence in 2002.
- There are both agreements and disagreements about sharing oil resources under the sea between Australia and Timor Leste.
Many Australian schools are building close relationships with communities in developing countries across the Asia-Pacific region as part of their education programs. WithOnePlanet will assist in the building of these relationships in particular with schools exploring relationships with communities in Timor Leste.
A subsistence-based economy
Timor Leste is a low-income subsistence based economy. It continues to suffer the after-effects of a decades-long independence struggle against Indonesia, which destroyed essential infrastructure and displaced thousands of civilians.
Timor Leste is ranked 147 out of 187 (2011) countries in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI): Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US $896. This is equivalent to 7% of the world’s average; 37% of the Timor Leste population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day; 40% of the population is malnourished; and life expectancy at birth is 62.5 years.
In comparison, the Gross Domestic Product per capita in Australia is US $61,789. The GDP per capita in Australia is equivalent to 222% of the world’s average.
Agriculture dominates the Timorese economy, accounting for 25% of GDP and approximately 75% of employment. Insufficient food production has led to a dependency on imports of rice and other commodities. Poverty is widespread in rural areas and health and education levels are poor.
Environment and Deforestation
Deteriorating infrastructure, a dislocated population and damaged natural environment are some of the legacies of war and occupation.
Forty-one per cent of the Timor Leste population lives below the poverty line, average annual family income is no more than a couple of hundred Australian dollars, more than half the population is unable to read or write and 70% of children do not reach primary school grade six.
The degradation of the landscape in recent years in Timor Leste is the result of uncontrolled clearance of native vegetation leading to erosion, periodic flooding, landslides and reduce groundwater recharge. The degradation has occurred from a combination of social and economic issues, grazing by goats, clearance for subsistence agriculture, wood collection for cooking and construction, and illegal logging. This has also affected streams, the water available to communities and the marine environment.
It is estimated that over 80% of the forests were destroyed between 1975 and 1999.
In 1975 about half the land in Timor was primary and secondary forest. By 1989 areas of forest dropped to about 40% and by 1999 less than 10% remained.
Most of the deforestation was conducted under logging operations for teak, redwood, sandalwood and mahogany for export. The use of wood as a primary fuel source has added to the problem of diminishing forests. Deforestation affects quality of drinking water due to soil erosion, increased contaminants and water flow. Forests and water are highly important resources. They provide many socio-economic benefits to both people and the environment.
During the rainy season water quality deteriorates causing increased disease and child mortality rates.
In Timor Leste many of the traditionally grown trees including teak, mahogany and sandalwood have all but disappeared. The land identified for tree growing in the Baguia district currenty has minimal current economic use. Buffalo, goats, pigs and horses all roam freely on the land. The country is infested with invasive plant species and weeds.
Of critical importance to the people of Timor Leste is the implementation of strategies to restore landscapes to a sustainable position, maintain them on an ongoing basis and achieve a range of environmental, social and economic outcomes, particularly food security, improved water supply and creation of employment and economic opportunity.
One of the key goals is to achieve change in the way that the community uses the natural environment.
The xpand Foundation programs have the capacity to double the income of subsistence farming families through reforestation activities, while contributing significantly to the broader community benefit through our commitment to economic participation, open education and regional partnerships.
Planning and strategy development has been undertaken in consultation with the local Baguia community to develop the project as a cooperative endeavour.
Developing the economic security of rural populations is essential to ensure progress in developing countries. One of the most damaging consequences of poverty in rural communities is the flight of people into the cities with the resultant problems of homelessness, unemployment, overpopulation and the collapse of social order.
One of the greatest contributions that can be made to the economic and social health of a developing country is to help keep families on the land, housed, employed, earning an increasing income and able to provide for their children’s working and educational future.
Family employment also ensures the employment of women and maintains their important roles in society and in education.
An outcome of special significance to disadvantaged rural communities will be the improved formal educational opportunities for children, facilitated by increasing and secure family income. The technology supporting the village-based Community Tree Cooperatives through Technology Resource Hubs will also make a significant contribution to educational outcomes.