SEATTLE — At first glance, East Timor, formally known as Timor-Leste, appears to be rife with problems. According to the Asian Development Bank, the Portuguese-speaking Southeast-Asian nation, which occupies half of the island of Timor and became independent from Indonesia in 2002, had a 49.9 percent poverty rate in 2014. The unemployment rate among East Timorese citizens ages 15 and above was a staggering 59.8 percent.
In reality, the country has made great strides towards developing its economy, and the international community is helping to reduce poverty in East Timor in a number of ways.
Among the signs of an evolving East Timorese economy is growing foreign investment. Writing for ANZ BlueNotes, Australian freelance journalist Mark Skulley reported that Dutch brewing company Heineken International is spending $40 million on the construction of a production plant in Dili, the capital of East Timor, as of August 2016. Australia, on the other hand, has invested $520 million in a cement plant in Baucau, the country’s second-largest city.
According to Skulley, this flow of cash and capital will reduce East Timor’s reliance on its $16 billion sovereign-wealth fund. The Timor-Leste Petroleum Fund is financed by revenue from oil and is expected to be depleted by 2030, due to falling prices worldwide and declining yield from the country’s existing fields.
In fact, a study funded by the Australian government and led by economist Brett Inder at Monash University in Melbourne found that poverty in East Timor would decline tremendously if the country diversifies its economy. A $200 million investment in agriculture would lower the poverty rate to 30 percent, whereas a $2 billion increase in petroleum income would only reduce poverty to 45 percent.
The growing agriculture and fishing industries will go a long way in alleviating the food shortages and child malnutrition, which have held the country back.
According to an article published by the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) on July 14, 2016, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research is working on a project to increase cattle production and create additional revenue for farmers in East Timor six-fold by using improved fodder. WorldFish, an international research nonprofit specializing in aquaculture, runs a tilapia fish farm on the island and is raising awareness for protecting East Timor’s coral reefs.
The country also benefits from a returning diaspora that is giving back to the community. Among their ranks are Carlos Sequera, a butcher raised in Melbourne who hopes to introduce new butchery techniques to his home country, and Jape Kong Su, the owner of a commercial property company in Darwin who wants to expand tourism in East Timor.
Poverty in East Timor is mainly due to a lack of resources, which it is eager to develop. The rest of the world can play a role in decreasing the country’s relative deprivation.
– Philip Katz