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A change in approach needed to tackle Timor-Leste’s water problem

Written by Tahlia Sarv
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The Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste has acknowledged that Timor-Leste still has a long way to go in terms of safe water and sanitation, despite great attention and funding towards the sector.

Currently, an estimated 300,000 people in Timor-Leste remain without access to safe drinking water, while 700,000 lack proper sanitation.

 

Australia will invest around $43 million by 2016 on phase two of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program (BESIK), which aims to provide reliable access to clean drinking water and sanitation to the rural population.

 

Already, under the first phase of the program, nearly 275,000 rural people have access to safe water, and almost 74,000 to sanitation.

 

Despite the successes, the question of water and sanitation remains a major issue for Timor-Leste. Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Peter Doyle says one of the key problem areas is maintaining appropriate infrastructure. 

 

“A lot of the water systems have really degraded. I’m told in the past there were better water management systems than there are now, and an important point that we’re trying to get through is about operations and maintenance,” he said.

 

“The [Timorese] government and ourselves have invested a lot of capital investment in a water system which then for the want of a budget for a regular operation and maintenance program has not performed as well as it should.”

 

With funding cuts to the Australian aid budget, and diminished value of the Aussie dollar, Australia’s capacity to deliver on water projects can also be expected to shrink.

 

Ambassador Doyle says Australia will continue to work “patiently and persistently” with the Timorese government’s objectives. 

 

“We’re anticipating that we won’t have large amounts of cash, big capital investments, but what we will want to do is try and make existing investments and the way they are managed by the government done a bit better, so that we can see those real improvements,” he said.

 

“We’re actually changing the way that we do water, sanitation and hygiene, to make it less about the infrastructure which the government wants to do itself.”

 

“In the longer term see scope for more NGO and private sector engagement in water and sanitation which would we think deliver better services.”

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