Highlights from Timor-Leste: 2018-19

4 min read
Ana Maria
Image: WaterAid/ Jafet Potenzo Lopes

Strong partnerships have been a core theme of our Timor-Leste program this year; we’ve consistently found ourselves able to expand our impact and our level of influence by working with others in the sector and by gaining buy-in from national and sub-national leaders.

This has been evident in our work in Liquiçá and Manufahi, two municipalities we’ve been helping to achieve ‘Open Defecation Free’ status. This milestone is ascribed to communities where the entire population uses a toilet rather than defecating in the open, and is used as a progress measure for Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving this status is critical for the health of individuals and communities as it makes the environment cleaner and reduces the likelihood of children and families contracting fatal diseases and infections like diarrhoea.

This year, we’ve been delighted to see the municipal government play a leading role in this work. We always knew that government leadership was going to be fundamental towards this goal being realised and it’s showing in the response from community members. We’re noticing locals are enthusiastic to participate, keen to share information and building strong relationships with their official representatives. This has also been motivating for other non-government organisations like us, knowing that our vision for clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene is shared by locals and leaders alike.

As of the end of March 2019, more than 12,000 thousand households in Liquiçá had been surveyed by local government with 98% recording access to toilets and the other 2% sharing toilets with other families, making it on track to become the 4th municipality in the country to reach ‘Open Defecation Free’ status. Manufahi is expected to follow shortly afterwards; only 5 of 29 villages in this region are yet to reach this status.

We will continue working in these municipalities as part of our new Water for Women-funded program. This program aims to make gender equality, social inclusion and improvements in nutrition an integral part of the water, sanitation and hygiene solutions implemented in Liquiçá and Manufahi. This means that in addition to 125,000 people in these districts having access to the basic facilities they need, we hope to see women and men sharing roles and responsibilities in decision making at a household and community level, and municipal leaders using a gender transformative approach when delivering services.

While Timor-Leste’s water and sanitation situation is improving each year, we know we can’t be complacent and we can’t let the government be either. One of our goals has been to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene projects continue to receive the funding they need, and we’ve continued to use our relationships with key government ministers to make this a budget priority. These efforts were vindicated at the 2nd National WASH conference in July 2018, when key government leaders reaffirmed the country’s commitment to making clean drinking water and sanitation a top priority, and stressed that water systems need to be “shared equally and be accessed by everyone”. These words were matched by a financial commitment, with the Timorese government more than doubling their allocated investment in this sector in 2019 compared to 2018.

Similar to our work in Cambodia, where we’ve been helping people break into the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, we’ve been collaborating with the Women in Engineering group to increase female participation in engineering activities. Through our connections, we’ve helped this group get involved at high-level national discussions on water, sanitation and hygiene. This culminated in Maria Martins, one of the women involved in this program, raising the profile of female engineers in a speech to over 500 global representatives at an International Women’s Day celebration event in Liquiçá.

Underlining all of our activities has been a commitment to capturing our learnings and building our knowledge through research. We participated in several research projects this year, covering topics such as climate change, nutrition, gender, and sexual and gender minorities, exploring how each of these intersect with water, sanitation and hygiene. Our learnings are helping us improve the quality of our programs, as well as advocate for better national policies, attract funding, and upskill our staff.

Case study

Program information

Expenditure: AUD $2,189,000

List of funders
Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program
Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program Gender Action Platform
Australian Government’s Water for Women Program
Partnership for Human Development
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
Latter Day Saints Charities Australia
WaterAid UK
Corporate, foundation and supporter contributions

Location of projects
Dili, Liquiçá, Manufahi

Local partners
CARE International, Marie Stopes International, Engineers Without Borders, Women in Engineering, Disability Peoples Organisation (RHTO), local implementing NGOs LBF, FHTL and NTF, FAS (Women Action for Sustainability), LBM (Struggle for Change), CBM, University of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), Association of Water User Groups, Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and local government departments in Liquiçá and Manufahi.

This article first appeared in WaterAid Australia's Annual Report 2018-19