from left to right: José Ramos-Horta, Margareta Wahlström, and Finn Reske Nielsen (Credit: UNDP Timor-Leste)
By David Singh
GENEVA, 22 November 2011
- Following a three-day visit to Timor-Leste, the top UN disaster risk reduction official, Margareta Wahlström, said environmental degradation and disasters could threaten a visionary development strategy and budget presented by the Government to the Parliament.
Wahlström, who heads the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said the Government of Timor Leste should “take to heart the need to look at disaster risks and risk reduction in critical development areas such as the environment, agriculture, education, health and infrastructure.”
After talks with Timor Leste’s President, José Ramos-Horta and Vice-Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres as well as a number of other key government officials, Wahlström said: “Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao is 100 per cent committed to having the strategy and the budget passed, and UNISDR will support and advance the efforts to put a risk reduction and prevention lens on development planning.”
During her visit Wahlström held a number of key talks with various stakeholders on mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) into national development planning processes. “We intend to do this by working closely with the Government, the UN team, national and international non-governmental organizations, the national University, donors and the private sector. And in light of the termination of the UN peace keeping mission at the end of 2012, we look forward to contributing to the next configuration of the Timor Leste - UN cooperation in the next phase.
“There is a system in place now to reduce disaster risks through coordinated emergency response, legislation, and planning for capacity strengthening. A cohesive strategy that focuses on prevention as well as response will help Timor-Leste to protect its development gains and achieve the set targets.”
“The issue with Timor Leste is that disasters tend to be localized,” noted Wahlström. “Local communities like Lautem district, which I visited, are good examples of resilience building. There are early warning systems and the district administration is working on effective responses and livelihood protection during flood, drought and landslide. Communities such as these, however, still need support with infrastructure development, communications, and early warning systems. They also need to plan ahead and do risk assessments to make sure that district authorities can really map and plan according to risks.”
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami forcibly brought home the reality of Timor Leste’s vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis. In March 2008 a newly formed National Disaster Management Directorate (NDMD) implemented a five-year National Disaster Management Policy (2007-2012) which now guides the Government in the development of strategies and policies. Key issues addressed are risk analyses; vulnerability monitoring; early warning; emergency management; post-disaster research and review; recovery and knowledge development; awareness raising and capacity building.
During her visit Wahlström met with Joao Gonçalves, Minister of Economy and Development; Jacinto Rigoberto de Jesus, Secretary-of State for Social Assistance and Natural Disasters in the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and Francisco do Rosario, Director, National Directorate of Disaster Management in the Ministry of Social Solidarity. She also held talks with local government officials from the Lautem District, Finn Reske Nielsen, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, Aurelio Guterres, Rector of the University Timor-Leste, the UN country team, non-governmental organizations and members of the private sector.
Timor-Leste is prone to floods and landslides and prolonged dry spells, which can trigger insect infestations, diseases and cause food insecurity. Experts consider the northern and southern coasts as high-risk areas for earthquakes and associated tsunamis. In the last decade alone, the country suffered from 470 disaster events.