By Claire Martin
UNV Volunteer in Timor Leste
Working as a UNV on environmental matters in Timor-Leste can be both challenging and rewarding. Timor-Leste is a relatively new country, colonized first by Portugal and shortly after its withdrawal it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. This history combined with the destruction and devastation that followed the Indonesian withdrawal in 1999 has left the country literally starting from scratch as far as environmental conservation is concerned.
Arriving in the country at the beginning of my assignment in February 2009 in the middle of the rainy season, the first thing that struck me as I stepped out of the airplane was the smell of rain – just like the country I had left behind 24 hours earlier. I could not help but be reminded of my home country Ireland that I had just left. The hills surrounding the city were green and lush as were the routes east and west of the city as I soon discovered.
While nine months later and waiting for the next rainy season to start, the hills are brown as far as the eye can see, the mikrolet fare collectors cover their faces with handkerchiefs to keep out the dust. Just outside of the city farmers shake their heads in dismay and you can almost feel the whole country holding their combined breaths waiting for the rains to arrive. One month later and the residents of Caicoli in the country’s capital Dili are wading through knee-deep water after an udan boot the night before.
Together with its fellow island nation neighbours in the Pacific, Timor-Leste is feeling the impact of Climate Change and is trying its best to grapple with them. As Government Representatives prepare to return from Copenhagen with news of the accord, the farmers of Timor-Leste are thinking about how they will survive when they no longer can predict the end of the dry season nor the intensity of the wet season…what do I plant? when should I plant it? when should I harvest it? what are these new diseases I am seeing? will I be able to produce enough food to get my family through to the next dry season. These are just a few of the questions farmers are asking themselves in Timor-Leste.
As part of my role as a UNV Volunteer placed with UNDP, these are also the issues that run through my thoughts every day. In order to best support those most exposed to the negative impacts of Climate Change, we are working together with a dedicated community encompassing government counterparts, local communities, NGOs, CBOs etc.
In this way we hope to help identify underlying vulnerabilities in order to strengthen the population’s resilience in the face of the negative impacts of climate change and their capacity to take advantage of opportunities to improve the environment and crop yields. With progress on mitigation remaining slow, assisting the people of Timor-Leste to adapt according to their own particular circumstances will be critical. Whilst the worlds’ leaders agree to haggle another day, in Timor-Leste the work continues to try to make sure the real victims of climate change are not left waiting.