DILI, Timor-Leste — Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a tiny island located just south of Indonesia and due north of Australia. However, the country is mostly known for its 25-year war with Indonesia, which left its people, economy and infrastructure severely damaged. The war ended 15 years ago and the country is still struggling to stabilize.
The current situation in Timor-Leste is precarious at best and has caused many humanitarian issues to worsen. Hunger in Timor-Leste is just one of the country’s issues.
With a population of only 1.1 million, the Timorese people suffer from hunger and nutrition. Almost 60 percent of children experience stunting. Forty-four percent are underweight. The country’s biggest issue is the number of people who live in poverty — almost 50 percent.
This number has steadily been increasing since the end of the war.
Like many small island countries with a weak economy, most of the Timorese population works in agriculture. This makes around 80 percent of the country’s rural population dependent on their crops for food and income.
Weather and poor infrastructure are a cause for insecurity in the agriculture sector. The rural populations do not have access to adequate roads or advanced irrigation systems. The climate of Timor-Leste is prone to droughts and flooding. These factors have increased the need for food importation, which currently stands at 50 percent. Maize and cassava are the main food crops, but rice has begun to be heavily imported.
Each year, the ‘hunger season’ in Timor-Leste starts in October and continues on until March. This is when those most vulnerable — the rural poor — experience decreased food security. They often have to rely on aid and food importation to survive.
Organizations like Oxfam Australia and the World Food Programme have been working hard to end hunger in Timor-Leste. They support grassroots programs that teach rural Timorese residents about sustainable farming practices and how to conserve water during times of drought. These types of programs serve a greater function than simply giving people food because they teach the locals how to sustain themselves for the future.
Just this year, Timor-Leste launched the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge, a program already implemented in many food-insecure countries.
The goal of the program is to “make sure that everyone in the world has access to enough nutritious food all year long; end childhood stunting; build sustainable food systems; double the productivity and income of smallholder farmers, especially women; and prevent food from being lost or wasted.”
The next few years will hopefully show signs of progress with this program.
Despite the difficult task of ending hunger in Timor-Leste, the government has been working hard with outside help to deal with this issue. In fact, the country moved up from 162 to 120 on the Human Development Index scale between 2009 and 2010. This is a tremendous leap and should be seen as a sign of progress.
There is still much more that needs to be done, but hopefully those leading the Timorese people will stay on the path to greater development and security for the country.
– Eleni Lentz-Marino