Improving water security for communities in Timor-Leste

Worrying about water is a normal part of everyday life for many people in Timor-Leste. In the village (suco) of Loidahar within the Liquiçá municipality on Timor-Leste’s northern coast, people are heavily dependent on agriculture—which means water is critical to their health and livelihoods.

But these communities are suffering from the health and economic impacts associated with reduced food production. As a result of climate change, extreme weather events are increasing, dangerously high temperatures are a regular occurrence and rainfall is highly variable. Even the wet season offers no guarantee of a reprieve from the elements—instead bringing risk of extreme rainfall and flash flooding that has the potential to destroy valuable crops.

Over recent years, Timor-Leste has taken steps to adapt to climate change and improve water management by making significant institutional changes. A new National Authority on Water and Sanitation (ANAS) has been established and emergency response mechanisms have been implemented at the suco level that consider disaster planning, preparedness, mitigation and adaptation.

But oftentimes sucos high in the catchment have ample water while low-lying sucos like Loidahar face ongoing scarcity. With this in mind, opportunities have been identified to introduce holistic catchment planning and more integrated coordination across different sectors to better respond to climate change.

This is the basis of project supported by the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) and led by WaterAid Timor-Leste. Loidahar sits within one of two pilot sites selected for the development and implementation of a catchment-wide Water Resource Management (WRM) plan, which will complement ongoing WASH initiatives in the region and help to improve water security.

While WaterAid is overseeing the project from an administrative perspective, it is the communities and stakeholders who are driving the development of the plan. The participatory approach allows organisations involved in permaculture and innovative technology to provide water resource management and preparedness knowledge, while women, people with disabilities and others experiencing marginalisation are valued, heard and considered in all aspects of planning.

The village chief of Loidahar, Mr Domingos dos Santos, is one of the local representatives playing a critical role in the project. He has been instrumental in advocating for the Loidahar community, rallying local support, identifying important stakeholders as local and national levels, coordinating a series of inclusive inception meetings and progressing the actions discussed.

“Before the implementation of physical work, we had several meetings involving relevant sectors such as the health department, education department, agriculture department, local authorities, veterans, women, men and people with disabilities. The discussion focused on water resources management in the catchment areas identified, including enabling and reviewing the customary law/Tarabandu to support regulation in the community efforts to protect the environment and water sources. The Tarabunda explicitly was revised to highlight water resources management which enabled better community practices. As part of the process, several meetings were conducted with the community to discuss efforts to strengthen the suku level decision making committee rules and responsibilities, to ensure the participation of women, people with disabilities, and the most vulnerable groups in the process of program implementation.

“As a local leader, it’s my honour to benefit from this program which is supported by the Australian Government for piloting Water Resource Management in our village.”

Mr dos Santos says that the WRM plan will be instrumental in nurturing these important assets into the future, saying, “We are thinking that we will communicate with the agriculture department to arrange for seedlings to be planted in the water pond so that it will be protected for a long time.”

A natural leader, Mr dos Santos is clear, passionate and confident about future prospects for Loidahar.

“In the next five years, the whole community will get enough water and there will be equitable water for everyone.”

Featured image: Community consultation in Timor-Leste (Credit: WaterAid)
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