Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in Asia. The country ranks 150 in the 2007 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) report, the lowest among
all Asian countries.
Food insecurity is common due to low crop yields, lack of income generating activities, limited purhcasing power, drought, lack of infrastructure, and underdeveloped markets. Over one-third of the population regularly experiences food shortages.
Shortages are particularly severe for four months each year: October-November and February-March. In 2002-3, Timor Leste was hit by two consecutive droughts, a direct result of the El Nino climatic phenomenon. Since then, drought-like conditions have persisted due to erratic rainfall both in 2003-4 and 2004-5 leading to an annual deficit in food production. In particular, Timor Leste's cereal production of rice falls short of overall consumption requirements.
With 40 percent of the population living on less than 55 cents per capita per day, poverty and the rising price of food products, especially cereals, also severely restrict the access of the poor to food, especially in rural areas.
Despite the fact that the average household spends over 60 percent of their average income on food (75 percent among poor families), it is believed that the estimated 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line consume less than 2,100 kcal required for a normal, healthy life.
The high food insecurity is apparent in Timor Leste's malnutrition rates, which are some of the highest in Asia. About 47 percent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished (stunted) and 43 percent severely malnourished (underweight). The rate of wasting is about 12 percent nationwide.
Malnutrition continues even among children aged more than five, when they go to school. Usually, children do not get to eat any food before going to school and find it hard to concentrate on their studies. Furthermore, more than 30 percent of women suffer from chronic energy deficiency.
WFP has a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) targeting 511,000 beneficiaries from among the country’s most vulnerable groups and affected by natural disasters. The PRRO consists of three main activities:
- Maternal and Child Health Nutrition (MCHN);
- School meals;
- food-for-work/assets (FFW/A).
Food is also allocated as part of the return package for returning internally displaced persons (IDP) of the 2006 crisis.
The MCHN programme aims to prevent and reduce malnutrition rates and improve the nutrition and health status of children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women.
The school meals programme aims to increase the enrolment and attendance rates and improve the overall performance of primary education.
The FFW/A programme aims to improve household food security during the lean season, create productive assets for agricultural production and improve road access to public and social services; and a reserve quantity of food is set aside to provide food to victims of sudden natural disasters.
Finally, the return package aims to assist in the peaceful resettlement of displaced people; a two-month ration is part of the package.
In addition to food-based programmes, aimed at directly improving the food security and nutritional status of vulnerable people, WFP will also assist in developing the capacity of government institutions and staff in all managerial and implementation aspects of these programmes, as well as in disaster preparedness and response.