Timor-Leste is a small island nation in the midst of the Coral Triangle. This rich stretch of sea between Asia and the western Pacific Ocean boasts the world's richest marine biodiversity — and provides food security and livelihoods for more than 130 million people. Timor-Leste alone is home to 400 species of reef-building corals, a bounty that makes it comparable to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The country is also one of the newest in the world. Timor-Leste achieved independence in 2002 after a nearly three-decade struggle against Indonesian occupying forces.
Unfortunately, freedom came at great cost. During the independence struggle, 20 percent of Timor-Leste's people lost their lives. A further 25 percent became refugees. The country's environment was ravaged, and its infrastructure and governance systems were purposefully destroyed. Today, more than 40 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, and half of Timor-Leste's children suffer from malnutrition.
But there is good news for the people of Timor-Leste: The future looks increasingly promising.
A Path Forward
Today, an estimated 90 percent of Timor-Leste's population depends directly on nature for its day-to-day survival. The country has an unprecedented chance to forge a new development path — one that capitalizes on, and benefits from, healthy, functional ecosystems.
Fortunately, the Timorese government recognizes how important sustainability is to the country's development. Timor-Leste's development plans include specific plans to:
- improve management of protected areas
- reduce land degradation and deforestation
- reduce the country's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change
- foster economic growth through nature-based tourism and sustainable agriculture
Creating a sustainable growth path will not be easy. Timor-Leste's history of conflict means that the country is, quite literally, building itself from the ground up. But such growth is necessary if the Timorese people are to thrive.