Water Challenges in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is located in Southeast Asia on the southern edge of the Indonesian archipelago. It occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor as well as the nearby islands of Atauro, Jaco and Oecusse. The western half of the island of Timor is governed by Indonesia.

Situated north-west of Darwin, Timor-Leste is one of Australia’s closest neighbours. The country experiences a tropical climate with a wet season from December to May and variable rainfall across the country. With upstream areas having limited capacity to store water, there are times when many of East Timor’s rivers run dry or dangerously low, making many parts of the country heavily dependent on groundwater. But parts of Timor-Leste are also vulnerable to destructive flash flooding, such as those experienced in April 2021 where 41 lives were lost.

An estimated 70 percent of the country’s 1.3m residents live in rural Timor-Leste, but urban water supply is also a significant issue. For example, just 40 percent of residents in the capital city of Dili are estimated to have access to piped water, with the urban supply impacted by inadequate infrastructure and maintenance, illegal connections and general water scarcity.

Australia’s support to Timor-Leste

Australia and Timor-Leste have been close allies since it gained independence in 2002. Recently, Australia provided comprehensive support to Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 response and economic recovery, which coincided with the April 2021 flooding event. AWP assisted the Government of Timor-Leste by redirecting current activities to support the urgent flood response. Australian Partner Similie helped to introduce and implement efficient and reliable digital technologies that collected valuable data on the impacts of the floods. This initiative made the assessment process more efficient and accurate—while also making safe data collection possible during the global pandemic.

A project supported by AWP in 2022-23 and led by WaterAid Timor-Leste aimed to introduce holistic catchment planning and more integrated coordination across different sectors to better respond to climate change.  Two pilot sites were selected for the development and implementation of a catchment-wide Water Resource Management (WRM) plan, which complement ongoing WASH initiatives in the region and help to improve water security. Communities and stakeholders drove the development of the plan, allowing organisations involved in permaculture and innovative technology to provide water resource management and preparedness knowledge, while local women, people with disabilities and others experiencing marginalisation were valued, heard and considered.

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