Rosie Nic Cionnaith was a recipient of the Summer 2010 round of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. Click here to see Part I and Part II of her articles from East Timor in the Irish Times from Saturday, 7th September 2013. For Rosie’s articles in the Donegal News Monday, 22nd April 2013, please see Part I and Part II from Donegal News Monday, 29th April 2013.
Timor Leste, one of the world’s newest countries, is in the critical early years of nation-building. The task comes with a lot of baggage – some 400 years of Portuguese rule, and 24 years of Indonesian – which left the country scarred and its people devastated. Over 200,000 were killed during Indonesian occupation. During pre-independence clashes in 1999, almost the entire infrastructure of the region was destroyed.
Independent since 2002, Timor Leste is still reeling from widespread destruction, genocide, poverty, hunger and displacement. It is Asia’s poorest country, ranking 162nd out of 182 countries in the HDR (Human Development Report), with 77.5% of the population earning less than $2 per day. As recently as 2007, substantial international aid was required (including from Ireland) to pull it from a food insecurity crisis.
What is remarkable is how this infant state, after such turbulence, is approaching the issue of environmental sustainability (Millennium Goal 7). Instead of being a side issue, it is recognised as crucial to future development.