Subject: Timor's Fragile environment in jeopardy
TIMOR-LESTE: Fragile environment in jeopardy
Replanting of costal flora, such as mangroves, is needed to stop the effects
of rising sea levels and extreme weather that destroying Timor-Leste's coastline
DILI, 31 July 2008 (IRIN) - Since it was built in 1983, residents of Dili
have watched the retaining wall of the Pantai Kelapa road along Timor-Leste's
coastline slowly erode.
Some say it is because of the effects of climate change – increasing
numbers of ferocious storms have caused waves to batter the edges of the road.
But it is impossible to be certain because of a 25-year gap in environmental
"There is data starting from the 1950s but it's not complete because of
the Indonesian occupation," Adao Soares, Timor-Leste's national focal point
for the <http://unfccc.int/2860.php>
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, told IRIN.
"So starting from 1975 there is no climate data for Timor-Leste until
A lack of data is not the only challenge. Limited human resources make it
difficult to undertake impact, vulnerability and adaptation studies. The
fledgling nation is seeking funding to tackle climate change from various places
- including the <http://www.gefweb.org/>
Global Environment Facility, but it is unlikely to come through before 2010.
"[Also] as a new country we have not completed our environmental
legislation so we have limited capacity to deal with climate change issues or
environmental issues in general," Soares told IRIN.
Deforestation and slash-and-burn farming practices make Timor-Leste
vulnerable to climate change
Signs of trouble
"People in Timor-Leste are basically living on the edge anyway,"
Lynne Kennedy, Oxfam livelihood and food security coordinator, told IRIN.
"They are living in a country where the climate is very variable and not
predictable in some places," she said. "It's becoming increasingly
Signs of an environment in trouble are everywhere in Timor-Leste. Rivers are
filling up with silt washed down from higher ground as the hillsides erode,
causing water to breach the banks. Landslides destroy roads in the wet season,
causing havoc for rural residents.
"As for bio-diversity, there is no data that indicates we have lost it,
but a few communities say some native trees are already gone because of the
climate changing," Soares told IRIN.
Mountain communities are reporting an increase in temperature, Soares said,
adding that rising sea levels also pose a dire problem for coastal areas –
including the capital, Dili, which is only several metres above sea level.
Farmers and food security
Farmers too are noticing changes in the environment. Despite the lack of
data, agricultural experts cite farmers who say traditional practices and
planting cycles no longer fit with the changing weather patterns.
"The seasons are no longer clear for them, they are confused about
it," Arsenio Pereria from HASATIL, an NGO that focuses on sustainable
agriculture, told IRIN. "In Timor-Leste we have two seasons and two times
for planting, but right now that has all moved."
The usual challenges faced by farmers – including those posed by the El
Niño effect - are now being exacerbated by changing weather patterns.
"You can have crops that fail one year because of a lack of rain and
you'll have crops that are washed away the next year by flooding," Kennedy
told IRIN. "Then you might get attacked by locusts which aren't behaving in
the same way the locusts have behaved previously ... anything you can think
Education and change
"Poor agricultural practices are evident, many of which are driven by a
lack of education or poverty," Soares said, adding that while most Timorese
are aware that climate change is an issue, they are forced by poverty to
over-farm the land and degrade the soil and the environment.
Soares said the government had to realise poverty reduction goes hand-in-hand
with improving the environment. "We should have a programme on renewable
energy - solar power for example, [so] we don't have to spend a lot of money on
The young nation also requires the financial and technical support of the
"We have limited capacity to deal with climate-change adaptation in
Timor-Leste, that is why we need capacity-building for our people - especially
experts - and meteorology equipment to monitor [changing weather
patterns]," Soares said.
The increasing challenge is also convincing the international community that
additional money is needed to deal with disaster preparedness and mitigation,
Kennedy said, on top of current funding for environmental development projects.
"We are fighting on all these fronts at one time and we can't do it with
the same resources - it is nonsense to say we should be using development money
to try to protect people against increasing natural disasters," Kennedy
Report can be found online at: www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79545
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