Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste: Disaster Management Reference Handbook (October 2019)

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Executive Summary

Timor-Leste lies on the eastern half of Timor Island within the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago in Oceania. The island is among the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between the Savu and Timor Sea basins about 400 kilometers (km) north of Australia. Timor-Leste is located near one of the most active tectonic plate boundaries in the world. Consequently, the high seismic activity and exposure to frequent earthquakes causes significant damage including triggering landslides with devastating impact on citizen’s lives, livestock, roads, infrastructure, and property. The country also counts tsunamis and tropical cyclones as threats.

Timor-Leste has no active volcanoes. However, it is susceptible to risk by Holocene volcanic groups on neighboring Indonesian islands to the west and east. Timor-Leste’s susceptibility to floods, landslides and prolonged dry spells, can also trigger insect infestations, diseases, and cause food insecurity. In the last decade, the country has suffered 470 disaster events, with its most frequent natural disaster being identified as flood, followed by drought and storms. Additionally, climate changes to the country threaten to create a hotter, drier, climate causing potential for harsher and longer drought conditions, heavier rainfall, and increased flooding and landslide hazards.

Timor-Leste carries a median score on the INFORM Index for resiliency in hazards with Timor-Leste has a 2020 INFORM Global Risk Index of 4.5; a Natural Hazard and Exposure risk of 3.4; a Vulnerability score of 4.2; and a Lack of Coping Capacity score of 6.2. Earthquakes (6.3) and Tsunamis (6) are Timor-Leste’s highest scoring vulnerability to natural disasters. While Timor-Leste does not necessarily contribute directly to global climate change, it does confront challenges within its local environment and potentially faces disastrous effects from global changes. Historic exploitation of resources included over-logging, land-clearing, and over-hunting/fishing. The low crop diversity in Timor-Leste creates a situation where any disruption to household food production immediately and severely impacts food security. Approximately two-thirds of the population suffers food shortages annually for at least two months during the months of October to March.

Timor-Leste is a young country having gained its independence in 2002. The country, with its population of approximately 1.32 million people are of Malayo-Polynesian and Melanesian-Papuan descent. It is also a country continuing to recover from decades of unrest and civil difficulties. With regard to governance, Timor-Leste has a democratic, semi-presidential, parliamentary system of governance. The President is head of state, and the Prime Minister is head of government. Institutionally, disaster risk management is coordinated by the National Disaster Management Directorate (NDMD), the lead agency under the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS). NDMD has district-level agencies and District Disaster Management Commissions (DDMC). At the sub-district level, there is the Sub-District Disaster Management Commission (SDDMC) and at the village or suco level, there is the Suco Disaster Management Commission (SDMC). DDMC, SDDMC and SDMC work mostly in response to the occurrence of disasters. Efforts are still limited to responding as there is not an overall systematic effort in disaster management that ranges from mitigation to rehabilitation and reconstruction. At the village or suco level, the commission is responsible for verifying disaster sites and reporting their findings up to the district level.

The Ministries of Interior and of Social Solidarity have joint responsibility for disaster response. The MSS is responsible for coordinating preparation and response in relation to any emergency. Under MSS sits the National Disaster Management Directorate, composed of the Disaster Operation Centre (DOC), the Departments of Preparedness and Formation, Prevention and Mitigation, Response and Recovery, and disaster management committees at Districts, Sub-district, and village/suco levels. The Joint National Disaster Operation Centre can stand up to function on a 24-hour basis, equipped with communications equipment, a secure power supply, and disaster proof structures. The NDMD is responsible for providing disaster risk management coordination and technical support to the government and community. It supports the National Disaster Coordinator (NDC) during disaster response operations.

Timor-Leste has some small engagements with the U.S. and is increasingly participating in events to create alliances and partnerships in the region. Timor-Leste also continues to make progress toward bolstering its capacities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters as well as create resiliency plans to deal with impending climate changes to the environment.