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Project Background

Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002 following a 25 year war with neighbouring Indonesia. During this battle, Timor-Leste's infrastructure was badly damaged. While there has been basic development and growth since, three in ten people still lack clean water and over half the population has nowhere to go to the toilet.

The country’s mountainous terrain, and rural population make the problem of bringing services such as water and toilets worse. With a population of 1.2 million, 71 per cent of people live in hard to reach rural communities.

Modern day conveniences in remote areas are rare, including running water and household toilets. Families depend on lakes and walking long distances to streams to collect their water, the bush for their toilets, firewood to fuel their stoves for cooking and subsistence farming for their food.

Challenges in These Communities

Families living in remote rural areas are extremely vulnerable to any changes in the weather. In particular, if the dry season continues for longer than expected, families wait longer periods until they are able to start growing their next crop. In this time, food supplies from the last season begin to run out, and families go hungry.

Similarly, lakes and streams begin to dry-up and women have no choice other than to walk longer distances in search of water – up to three hours. With no guarantee the water is safe to drink, the risk of falling ill from contaminated water far outweighs having no water at all. Collecting water continues to be a real and on-going challenge for people in Timor-Leste, especially women for whom the burden of collecting water falls on them.

The specific challenges of not having water include:

  • The task of collecting household water to drink, cook and bathe in falls largely on women and girls.  Women and Girls walk long distances through dangerous terrains and spend hours collecting water which precludes them from participating in more productive activities such as engaging in employment. 
  • Without a continuous supply of water, communities are unable to water their crops or grow vegetables and fruits to feed their families. Children become malnourished and have a limited capacity to develop and grow to their full potential.
  • Without toilets, people have no choice other than to defecate in the nearby bushland. This can be extremely dangerous for women and children as they are vulnerable to attack. In addition, open defecation contaminates water supplies and spreads disease. 
  • Chronic diseases such as diarrhoea or worm infestations prevents children from absorbing nutrients in their food. Undernourishment is a cause of stunting which affects around 50 per cent of children in Timor-Leste.
  • As people and their carers spend time at home recovering from illness spread through contaminated water, they are not at work or at school. This affects the entire household and eventually traps the family in the poverty cycle. 

Project Objective and Outcomes

By giving communities access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, the project will create opportunities for families to break free from the cycle of poverty and illness.

Expected outcomes include:

  • Water close to home means women and children will be less prone to injury and abuse as they no longer need to make the treacherous journey up slippery mountains and steep terrains to collect water.
  • Women no longer carry the burden of collecting water at sources that can be hours away. Women will have more time to pursue employment, tend to their gardens and invest time caring for their families.
  • Children, especially girls will go to school instead of collecting water. As the task of collecting water falls on women and girls, fewer girls will drop out of school meaning their educational outcomes improve.
  • Reliable and sustainable sources of water means families can grow fruits, vegetables and grains. This will provide healthy food to the household and income as families can sell surplus supplies at the local markets.
  • With an improved and reliable source of food, children will have a greater chance of growing strong and healthy.
  • Toilets will restore privacy, dignity and safety. Women and young children in particular, will no longer have to fear going out into the bush at night to go to the toilet.
  • Families are no longer defecating in the open. Villages are cleaner and families are less vulnerable to disease. This is especially important for young children as frequent outbreaks of diarrhoea can stunt growth or affect education as children spend time at home recovering from their illness instead of being at school.
  • As communities are no longer drawing water from nearby lakes and streams, natural water resources will be better protected for future generations.
  • Women trained as Water User Group members will have a greater say around key decisions in their community, and will become role models for younger women in their villages.
  • By handing over ownership and management of water supplies to community Water User Groups and local government, communities will have the capacity and support to manage and maintain their water systems. This means people will continue to benefit from sustainable water supplies for generations to come.

What's Covered in Project Costs

Footprints funding will contribute to overall project including, installation of four complete water systems – one in each village.  At the same time, funding will help families to build their own toilets.

Finally, people will learn about the importance of practicing good personal and household hygiene to stop the spread of disease. Activities  in each village include:

  • Installing a gravity-fed water system and tap-stands close to households. 
  • Testing water quality before and after the installation of each water system. 
  • Establishing a Water User Group in each village and training members to: manage fair and equitable supplies of water in their community, maintain their new system and to carry out minor repairs. We will also connect the group to local government in case larger repairs are required. 
  • Integrating water resource management training, and educating communities on climate change and resilience.
  • Holding awareness events and learning sessions around the importance of using a toilet. A community-led total sanitation approach will inspire and empower communities to stop open-defecation and to build and use their own private toilets.
  • Supporting a local sanitation supply chain through marketing and distribution of toilet seats and parts to ensure families have the equipment they need to build and maintain their own toilets.
  • Holding hygiene promotion sessions in each village to support healthy hygiene behaviours, like handwashing with soap, cleaning and handling kitchen utensils and safe disposal of household waste. 
  • Supporting the community to manage their water and changed sanitation and hygiene behaviours.

Project Partners and Community Involvement

Two local key partners will help WaterAid to implement this project. Our partners, Fundação Hafoun Timor Lorosa’e and Luta Ba Futuru are local NGO’s who have a deep connection to Timor-Leste and are specialists in implementing water and sanitation in Timor-Leste. Our partners understand the people; their language, customs and their challenges. This helps to engage communities and contributes to a more successful and sustainable outcome.

Community participation is key to our success. In each community, prior to commencing a project, we ensure that the community’s particular needs are heard and identified.  Through a process of community engagement, we invite the community to play an integral part of implementing the project with us and our partners.

By securing a sense of ownership at the beginning the project, community members are much more likely to feel connected to the project, which brings the chance of a sustainable solution much closer. All members of the community will be invited to contribute to the project, whether it be helping to lay pipes, paint and decorate water tanks or provide meals for the workers.

At completion of the project, we hand the water system over to the community and district council for on-going management. The occasion is celebrated in a special community celebration.

Part of a Larger Strategy

The delivery of this project is aligned to the Government of Timor-Leste’s National Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030 that aims to reach universal coverage of improved water and sanitation by 2030. This plan is implemented through the National Basic Sanitation Policy and Rural Water Supply Guideline, which project activities support.

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