Subject: RT: E. Timor: Asia's newest country is also the poorest

Asia's newest country is also the poorest

By Joanne Collins

DILI, East Timor, May 13 (Reuters) - Tiny East Timor, counting down to its independence in a few days, is Asia's poorest country and will need considerable international assistance in the years ahead, the United Nations said on Monday.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) said in a report that East Timor was Asia's poorest nation in terms of financial and human development, with annual per capita GDP of just $478.

Its human development indicators put it among the world's 20 poorest countries -- alongside nations such as Rwanda and Angola.

East Timor will declare independence in the early hours of May 20 following centuries of Portuguese colonisation and, more recently, 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule.

"Now that independence is achieved, the problems of poverty and economic growth still remain to be tackled and considerable international assistance will be needed in the years ahead," said the report, released on the eve of a two-day meeting of foreign donors in the capital, Dili.

The UNDP said war-ravaged Afghanistan did not fall under its definition of Asia.

UNDER U.N. ADMINISTRATION

East Timor, home to some 740,000 people, has been under U.N. administration since late 1999 after an overwhelming vote to break free from Indonesian control triggered an orgy of violence and looting from pro-Jakarta militias who opposed the move.

That widespread destruction has made the job of the East Timorese even harder, and the statistics paint a bleak picture.

More than 40 percent of the population live below the national poverty line of $0.55 per day, with many Timorese engaged in subsistance agriculture, the report said.

Over half the population is illiterate, life expectancy is 57 years of age, very few people have received adequate education and more than 50 percent of infants are underweight, it said.

Discussions with donors are expected to focus on a vision for national development and strategies to reduce poverty.

Donors will also pledge more aid for a fledgling nation about half the size of Belgium and slightly smaller than Hawaii. It was not clear how much donors have already committed to East Timor since the violence of the independence vote.

While economic growth would be a problem when the U.N. scales down, the report said Timorese could draw on their determination for freedom to help build the world's newest nation.

"Through the long years of colonisation and occupation, the people of East Timor retained an unquenchable desire for freedom. That kind of courage and determination should serve them well in the years ahead," said the report.

ENERGY RESOURCE-RICH

One of the main determinants of East Timor's future would be how it used petroleum revenues estimated at $7 billion over two decades from 2004, the UNDP report said.

East Timor and neighbour Australia and will sign a treaty over developing gas fields in the Timor Sea on May 20. Royalties will be split 90:10 in East Timor's favour.

Another problem for East Timor would be the range of languages spoken in the territory, the report added.

East Timor authorities have decided to make Portuguese the language of school instruction, although a household survey last year concluded only five percent of the population spoke it compared with 82 percent for Tetum, the main local language.

Tetum is regarded as too limited for the modern world.

Both Tetum and Portuguese are considered national languages by the constitution, the UNDP report said. Bahasa Indonesia, a symbol of Jakarta's harsh and unwelcome rule, was spoken by 43 percent of East Timorese, according to the household survey.

Read UNDP Report at: http://www.undp.east-timor.org/National_Human_Development_Report_2002.htm


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