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Development assistance in Timor-Leste

Flag of Timor-Leste

Australia's development partnership with Timor-Leste

2020-21 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$73.0 million
2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$105.2 million
2019-20 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$100.7 million

Australia and Timor-Leste are close neighbours, with a shared history and strong people-to-people links. Australia has been at the forefront of international support for Timor-Leste since independence in 2002 and remains Timor-Leste’s largest development and security partner. We maintain a deep and abiding interest in Timor-Leste’s future prosperity, and we will continue to reshape our development assistance to support Timor-Leste in its COVID-19 response and recovery.

Since independence, Timor-Leste has made considerable progress in establishing state institutions, transitioning out of conflict, and improving key development indicators such as maternal and child mortality. It is rated as Southeast Asia’s most democratic country. However, key development challenges remain.

Most of Timor-Leste’s population lives in rural areas. Timor-Leste’s topography, climate vulnerability, and poor infrastructure compound challenges in agricultural production, access to basic services and employment opportunities. Human capital development is severely constrained by the high rate of stunting for children under the age of five – the third worst in the world.

Limitations in education quality and access to basic health services multiply these impacts and mean that Timor-Leste’s young population is not yet reaching its full potential.

Major barriers to women’s and girls’ empowerment are becoming more pronounced under COVID-19. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by disruptions to services and have fewer opportunities to reach their potential.

Timor-Leste successfully managed a first cluster of COVID-19 infections thanks to a quick and effective response and strong cooperation between government agencies and development partners. However, Timor-Leste remains vulnerable to additional, wider outbreaks.

COVID-19 is threatening to undermine development progress and exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. Reductions in income are constraining households’ ability to meet basic needs and access sufficient nutritious food; school closures have weakened children’s learning outcomes; and lockdowns have increased the risk of violence against women and children (VAWC).

Australia has been Timor-Leste’s primary partner in its immediate COVID-19 response and early recovery. We have drawn upon existing partnerships and investments, while deploying new resources, to support Timor-Leste’s response across several sectors.

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, Australia upgraded Timor-Leste’s three COVID-19 isolation facilities and provided equipment and expertise to establish in-country testing. We pivoted existing programs – in social protection, food security, and VAWC services and prevention – to channel resources to support Timor-Leste’s response and ensure the most vulnerable people are not left behind.

Beyond the immediate health response, Australia will work in partnership with the Timor-Leste Government to deliver long-term human development outcomes, grow and diversify the economy, and support the resilience of institutions and communities.

Australia’s $304.7 million COVID-19 Response Package will provide support to the Pacific and Timor-Leste to deliver critical, temporary, economic support to address pandemic impacts; this targeted, temporary (ODA) funding is for two years and is in addition to Australia’s $4 billion ODA program. Funding from this package will help Timor-Leste maintain essential health and other services, protect the most vulnerable people and support economic recovery.

Health security in Timor-Leste

Australia is proud to have worked closely with Timor‑Leste to pivot programs quickly across the health sector to support surveillance, testing, isolation facilities and health worker training.

As we pivot to respond to COVID-19, we will maintain support for the broader health sector and the delivery of essential services. Strong health systems deliver life-saving care and form the critical foundation for health security and the effective management of communicable diseases such as COVID-19 as Timor-Leste adapts to a new global normal.

Our support for Timor-Leste’s health care system will be complemented by efforts in other sectors to help tackle the multidimensional problem of malnutrition. We will also focus on improving access to water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion. Our support for health security will continue to prioritise gender equality and disability inclusion.

Further information on programs addressing health security in Timor-Leste.

Stability in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste, a young nation, is working to strengthen its institutions that underpin stability and security. We are working with Timor-Leste to extend programs that deliver opportunities and services to people, especially in rural areas.

We will partner with the Timor-Leste Government on investments that help to enhance people’s trust in their institutions. We will build on our long-running partnerships, which have improved coordination and logistics for the COVID-19 response, to foster more effective and gender-responsive security institutions.

Australia will work with Timor-Leste to strengthen social protection programs that support households and communities, including people with disabilities, during this period of heightened vulnerability and beyond.

To promote food security, we are supporting farmers to grow and market their products and respond to biosecurity threats, so that supplies of nutritious food are not interrupted.

We will continue to support essential services to respond to VAWC, which is likely to increase at times of movement restrictions and heightened strain on households. We will support communities and the government to take action to prevent VAWC. We will also support local advocates and maintain our own advocacy so that the voices of women and girls are amplified and considered in policies and programs.

Further information on programs addressing stability in Timor-Leste.

Economic recovery in Timor-Leste

Australia is supporting a more resilient and diversified economy and helping to enhance connectivity in Timor-Leste. We will support Timor-Leste’s national systems for public financial management and regulatory reforms for better governance. This will help Timor-Leste to more effectively support its people in COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

Australia will invest in quality infrastructure and connectivity as part of Timor-Leste’s economic recovery. We will partner with the Timor-Leste Government to support labour-intensive rural road works and village-level infrastructure grants, helping to connect people in rural areas to services and economic opportunities. We will increase investment in Timor-Leste’s national economic infrastructure through transformational projects including a fibre optic submarine cable and proposed upgrades to Dili’s international airport.

We will invest in education through improving teaching quality and school learning, and strengthening technical and vocational education institutions. Our Australia Awards scholarships and short courses will help to build a pipeline of highly qualified and respected professionals and leaders. Across our programs, we will target increased skills development and employment opportunities for women and people with a disability. As borders reopen, we will support pathways to labour mobility, especially for women.

Our support to private sector growth will continue, especially in tourism, coffee and other agricultural products, to manage the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and improve the long-term prospects for trade and economic growth.

Further information on programs addressing economic recovery in Timor-Leste.

Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

Our results

In 2019-20, Australia supported Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 development response by:

  • working with the National Health Laboratory and the Menzies School of Health Research to help establish COVID-19 testing in Timor-Leste
  • upgrading infrastructure to establish Timor-Leste’s only isolation facilities, which can now hold up to 300 COVID-19 patients in the event of future outbreaks
  • delivering training, through NGOs including Maluk Timor, in infection prevention and control to more than 1,600 frontline workers at over 80 health centres
  • providing technical and logistics support to facilitate emergency cash payments to more than 298,000 families across Timor-Leste
  • providing $7 million for community infrastructure projects in one-third of communities across Timor-Leste to help create jobs and stimulate economic activity
  • enabling Catalpa International to negotiate a free text message service with telecommunication companies to allow COVID-19 messages to be sent out to around 800,000 people per day
  • supporting the opening of new women’s centres for survivors of gender-based violence to quarantine clients before integration into women’s shelters
  • supporting the development of Timor-Leste’s Economic Recovery Plan.
  • supporting the Timor-Leste police respond to COVID-19, including by helping establish border posts.

In addition, in 2019-20 the Australian development partnership supported:

  • the Liga Inan program which uses simple mobile phone technology to connect midwives and pregnant women. With more than 15,000 women enrolled, this has almost doubled the likelihood of women delivering their babies in the presence of a skilled birth attendant
  • the implementation of gender sensitive policies and systems, which led to the recruitment and promotion of women in the civil service almost reaching parity with men in 2019
  • the Front End Engineering Design for a fibre optic submarine cable announced by Australian and Timor-Leste prime ministers in August 2019
  • around 1,500 Timorese workers to arrive in Australia for participation in labour mobility initiatives before travel restrictions were imposed in March 2020.

How we will work

As Timor-Leste’s largest development partner, we will lead by example, providing predictable funding and working with other development partners so that our joint efforts align with Timor-Leste’s Foreign Aid Policy and Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030.

Consistent with Timor-Leste’s Foreign Aid Policy and our own risk management policies, we will progressively increase our use of Timor-Leste’s government systems. In 2020, we provided $7 million in direct budget support – complemented by technical assistance – to contribute to community infrastructure grants as part of the COVID-19 recovery. We will explore further opportunities to provide direct budget support.

We will work with Timor-Leste to maximise the quality and accountability of its spending, so that Timor-Leste’s natural resources result in better services and opportunities for all. We will work across the Timor-Leste system – from Dili through to municipal authorities – to advise Government and test new ways of doing business. We are committed to technically sound and politically feasible approaches and will maintain flexibility to respond to emerging opportunities.

Australian Government agencies will work together in a coordinated whole-of-government approach to make the most of the full suite of ODA and non-ODA investments in Timor-Leste’s development and recovery. And we will increase the benefit Timor-Leste sees from our regional and global initiatives, including NGO and volunteer programs which work directly with rural communities, and international partnerships. We will draw upon the deep people-to-people links and community-level partnerships – including between veterans and friendship groups – between our nations.

Connect with the Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste through Facebook and Twitter.

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