Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of the Timor-Leste Referendum (Popular Consultation)

3 min read
WaterAid Timor-Leste

On 30 August 1999, a referendum took place in Timor-Leste, ultimately leading to the country’s independence. This is remembered each year with a public holiday called Popular Consultation Day. Twenty years on, WaterAid Timor-Leste reflects on the progress it has made and the challenges ahead. 

WaterAid has been working in Timor-Leste since 2005. WaterAid started in Liquiça municipality in 2007 and has been gradually strengthening its implementation through local partner non-government organisations and with local government. In 2011, we expanded into Manufahi municipality. WaterAid has also informed and assisted the government in the development of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector policies and strategies. Since 2007 WaterAid has supported 200 rural communities in Timor-Leste with water and sanitation infrastructure and hygiene education. These achievements have been made possible through our strong partnership approach with local partner NGOs and local government. WaterAid has nearly 10 partners to date that support and contribute to program implementation.                                                                             

WaterAid has had a large impact in Timor-Leste so far through providing access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, which links directly to the health and wellbeing of every human being on a daily basis. We acknowledge, however there is still a lot more work to do in responding to the needs to rural communities throughout Timor-Leste. According to the 2015 census, only 57% people have access to sanitation and approximately only 28% have hand-washing facilities (Joint Monitoring Programme, 2019).

In celebrating Timor-Leste’s 20 years anniversary of Popular Consultation, we thank WaterAid staff and partner staff. We acknowledge their contributions to the development of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector over the 14 years of WaterAid’s existence in Timor-Leste. We also acknowledge their contributions to Timor-Leste’s independence by contributing to education and campaigning for Popular Consultation, which took place on August 30, 1999.

As part of this year’s reflection, we would like to thank the government and the people of Timor-Leste, because there has been positive progress made in the WASH sector in recent years, for example, 74.7% people in Timor-Leste have access to water to date (Census 2015). There is also an improvement on the sanitation coverage with four municipalities, namely Aileu, Bobonaro, Ermera, and Likisa, recently declaring open defecation free status. We profoundly appreciate also the Timor-Leste government for developing a strategic development plan towards 2030 and for adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which highlight that everyone, everywhere will have access to water, sanitation, and hygiene by 2030. In addition to having access to basic needs, we expect that we can meet the requirements of improved facilities to ensure the quality of safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as improving health and nutrition for children.  

Some critical observations we would like to highlight are as follows:

  • Some people still lack access to WASH;
  • Existing WASH infrastructure is not well managed in terms of operation and maintenance;
  • Water quality is still a concerning issue; from 137 water samples WaterAid tested in Liquiça and Manufahi last year, 72% were unsafe to drink without treatment;
  • The malnutrition rate is still high at 46% (Demographic Health Survey, 2016).

Therefore, it is important to increase investment in the WASH sector specifically in operation and maintenance, improving water quality, reducing malnutrition, ensuring community engagement in building sanitation and handwashing facilities at household level, and the maintenance of existing facilities, so that everyone can have access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Happy 20th anniversary of Popular Consultation to all Timorese people. Together we will continue to work hard for our people and our beloved nation to achieve our strategic development planning goals and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

For more information, please contact Ms. Josefina Pereira, WaterAid Timor-Leste Communications and Knowledge Specialist: [email protected] or +670-7865-3015 or +670 3322 944