Disaster risk reduction is a key issue for East Timor, which is prone to floods, landslides and prolonged dry spells that can cause insect infestations, diseases and food insecurity.
East Timor is also situated on a high-risk area for earthquakes and tsunamis.
According to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, the country has suffered from 470 disaster events in the past decade alone.
Margareta Wahlstrom is the UN's Disaster Risk Reduction chief and has just completed a three day visit to East Timor.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction
WAHLSTROM: As described by the mission's statement, the peculiarity may be of Timor is that disasters are mostly very localised here. It's flash floods and flooding that take a huge toll on already poor people's limited assets and therefore and that's very important, Timor is investing a lot in building also local capacity to respond and manage these disasters. People are extremely resilient in this country, they have gone through so much and so the importance of now the huge development effort of this country is to also strengthen and support further that capacity at local level. So that's definitely one area. There's clear investment in ensuring that the districts and subdistricts have and will have better knowledge, communications capacity and some material capacity to both assess the risk, prevent, and also respond. But to do that really well of course they need support from the central level, so you need a stronger institution and in the past few years, there have been a significant investment in developing the disaster management capacity, civil protection entity and a Social Solidarity Ministry that is developing much better knowledge about where the major risks are and that is also equipped with the capacity to provide material relief.
Some big challenges really are there. There's the very obvious need to in the next 12 months I would hope to see the national disaster response capacity and preparedness significantly strengthened both materially, but with trained staff and what we also hope really is that the government and the line ministries that are all directly concerned will take to heart the need to look at risks and risk reduction in some of the critical development areas, like environment, agriculture, education, health and infrastructure.
LAM: Margareta Wahlstrom, sorry for jumping in here, but as you say, East Timor has made significant progress in reducing the risk of natural disasters. But are there areas of vulnerability do you think, areas that East Timor has to watch out for?
WAHLSTROM: Oh yes, there's no doubt and one is you don't build all this in a short time frame as the country has had and that's why some improved capacity for example, warehousing to keep materials, the stocks closer to where disasters really happen, that the communications across the country, equip new human resources at the local level, but also at ministerial level and also to look to identify a much better risk area in environment, for example, landslide risks and make sure they have prepositioned both material assistance, but also the ability to prevent, you actually can prevent landslides, you can build protection to prevent flooding, you can make sure you don't build houses in highly flood prone areas and these are precisely the things they are now focusing on in many areas to be supported to do that will be very critical.
LAM: And Margareta Wahlstrom, what recommendations would you make to the East Timorese authorities to better support and protect communities that are at risk?
WAHLSTROM: It is precisely these areas that I have already mentioned and there are already good examples of this happening in certain districts and certainly the ministries in charge and the Social Solidarity and the ones in charge of disaster response. They do need particular support with some of the infrastructure development, type of housing, communications, early warning systems. They also need a commitment to plan ahead to do risk assessment, to make sure that district authorities can really map and plan according integrated with environment issues and drought prevention issues, agricultural development that is sensitive both to the increasing and really very uncertain rain period that they seem to be subjected to here in the past few years, but have decreased the harvest output. So these are the issues and they all integrated development issues that you can hear, so some of its material and it's a lot of training, it has to be localised and it has to be given a very high priority.