Timor Leste preparing for worsening El Nino

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El Nino effects continue to delay and disrupt the vital annual wet season in Timor Leste. In a country where 70 per cent of the population rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture and 41 per cent of the total population lives below the international poverty line, the impact will be felt throughout 2016.

Malnutrition rates in Timor Leste are high in non El Nino years (44-58 per cent of children under five are stunted), and 20 per cent of the population is food insecure (with a further 44% vulnerable to becoming food insecure[1] and the world’s fourth worst Global Hunger Index [2]). In the traditional hungry months, many households reduce to two meals a day and women prioritise children’s food over their own. Pregnant women and young children[3] suffer particularly from anaemia, being underweight, stunting and wasting and these have severe knock-on effects to maternal and child health.

Few families produce enough food to store for emergencies, or to sell in local markets to earn cash to buy food, and even fewer have access to alternative livelihoods (38 per cent of the population lives on less than $0.55 per day).

El Nino has delayed and reduced rainfall in this year’s growing season. This has meant that planted crops have failed or been delayed and crops currently in the ground are threatened by ongoing lack of rain. Preliminary impact assessments also indicate that in the worst affected areas aquifers (the main water source for rural communities) are drying up with people, animals and wildlife struggling to find water and more cases of water borne diseases[1].

While the El Niño conditions are likely to have peaked in January 2015 the remaining 3 months of the 2015-16 monsoonal season (January to March) are projected to also have lighter and less frequent rains. Timor-Leste is projected to have the greatest El Niño impact on its population and environment in South East Asia, with up to 50 per cent of the area of Timor-Leste potentially becoming food and water insecure by the second quarter of 2016[2]. Peter Raynes, Country Director for CARE Timor Leste says:

“The reduced rainfall and knock-on effects on water sources and agricultural output is going to put extreme pressure on vulnerable households to meet their food needs through 2016 … Throughout this year vulnerable household’s coping mechanisms will be severely stretched but positive action taken now to increase their resilience can mitigate the worst.”

How CARE is helping

CARE’s Timor Leste office is playing a key role in coordination and raising national awareness.

In August 2015, CARE Timor Leste convened a group of development stakeholders and the Timor Leste Government to agree on key El Nino messages to inform rural communities of the coming challenges and advise them on ways to mitigate impacts. These messages were then officially endorsed by the government. CARE’s flagship Lafaek magazines took the endorsed messages created posters using their well known and loved characters and design style. These posters were published in the Ba Komunidade magazine reaching over 80,000 households. Lafaek is a 15 year education and communication project publishing and distributing the only reliable printed material reaching the vast majority of rural households and school children. The posters have been adopted by the Government of Timor Leste Prime Minister’s office for further reproduction and distribution. Also in collaboration with the Government of Timor Leste Prime Minister’s office CARE’s health team project staff and Mother Caring Group members have taken part in an national radio broadcast to share information on food storage and nutrition. Highlighting the CARE supported kitchen garden project’s positive impact on the resilience and improved nutrition of women and children. You can support CARE’s work providing support to vulnerable families in Timor Leste to strengthen coping mechanisms and prevent knock-on impacts of El Nino. Please donate to CARE’s El Nino Crisis Appeal today.

[1] Seeds of Life, El Nino Timor Leste Update: Low rainfall impacts on animal health – 10/1-15/01 2016

[1] 2015 GHI score for Timor is 40.7, Level: “Alarming”: http://ghi.ifpri.org/countries/TLS/

[2] See the National Food Security Policy for detail.

[3] Maternal mortality is high, estimated at between 408 and 706 per 100,000 live births for 2009-2010. The fertility rate in Timor-Leste for 2007-2009 is the highest in South East Asia at 5.7 children per women. High maternal mortality is a combination of high fertility, poor access to health services and other health issues faced by women. Pregnancy or pregnancy related problems account for 42% of all deaths of women aged 15-49. Although women’s nutritional status is improving, 27% of women in Timor-Leste are malnourished which contributes to maternal mortality, poor child nutrition and development, and reduced productivity and energy levels amongst women. See Wigglesworth, 2010