What climate change means for Timor-Leste

2 min read
Eliza, 30, with her daughter
Image: WaterAid/Tom Greenwood

This statement was written by WaterAid Timor-Leste Country Director Justino da Silva.

Timor-Leste consists of 13 municipalities, 65 Post Administrative, 452 Villages and 2233 sub-villages. Timor-Leste is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and climate change. Over 55% of all sucos (villages) in Timor-Leste are prone to the threat of climate change these days.

Climate change is causing immediate and long-term impacts on life in Timor Leste, not only on human life and biodiversity but also on water resources in Timor-Leste if it is not mitigated. Climate change is water change and it is happening nowadays in Timor-Leste. These include flooding, drought, sea-level rise, drying up of rivers, poor water quality in surface and groundwater systems.

Around 80% of the population rely on agriculture to make a living (UNDP, 2010), but erratic rainfall, long dry seasons, sea level rises and rivers drying up is making it harder and harder for people to feed their families. The local communities have experienced seasonal weather fluctuations such as erratic rainfall and long dry season, resulting in crop damages or failures. Sea level rise also has threatened coastal areas, specifically Dili (the capital), which is only a few meters away above sea level. These unseasonal weather events associated with climate change have consequently posed a threat to the livelihoods of communities residing in that particular area (CIA - The World Factbook. 2009. Timor-Leste).

In villages where WaterAid has worked to bring water and sanitation services to communities, equipment has been damaged by extreme weather events including landslides and floods. If you do not have basic services, you cannot be resilient to anything.

The extreme weather at the WaterAid site work is also often leading to landslide, floods, and water shortage and as such will have a major impact on public health. For example, in Maulau, Searema Manufahi, the local communities there are prone to water scarcity during the long dry season (Community Scored Card, 2019), while in Leb Metan, Fatumasi Likisa the landslide also has posed a threat to the newly installed water infrastructure February this year.

According to the assessments in 2016, about 400,000 people are severely affected and the numbers are expected to rise as the slow onset of disaster will be more prominent in the health and sanitation, nutrition and other aspects of livelihood.

In October 2018, chief of the village of Fatumasi Mr. Eduardo Alves da Cruz, informed WaterAid that his local communities have experienced the long dry season and such issues led to the scarcity of water, which makes it difficult for the local communities residing in dry areas to grow crops. When crops are not planted, there won’t be enough food for people and consequently people will go hungry.