Independent since 2002, Timor-Leste – an island nation situated between Indonesia and Australia – is one of the world’s newest countries. It has successfully managed to transition out of conflict and become one of the region’s most stable democracies, with opposing political forces maintaining a peaceful dialogue to resolve differences. Its economy is dependent on oil and gas revenues, but with aspirations to develop agriculture and tourism.
Timor Leste is a young nation. 59 percent of the population is under 25 years of age and women bear children at very early ages: one in four gives birth before turning 20. The right investments in education, employment and the empowerment of women can accelerate development in the course of a generation. Improved nutrition must underpin these efforts.
The Government of Timor-Leste is firmly committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which it was a staunch supporter during negotiations. However, serious obstacles to the achievement of SDG 2 on Zero Hunger and improved nutrition remain.
The proportion of hungry poor was reduced from 46.9 percent to 34.3 percent over the past decade. However, the 2017 Global Hunger Index still rates hunger levels in the country as ‘serious’. People’s ability to eat sufficient nutritious food is limited by poverty – with 41.8 percent of the population living on less than US$ 1.54 a day – difficult access to markets, low agricultural productivity and exposure to climate change.
Malnutrition levels remain worryingly high, with stunting affecting 53 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls, and wasting affecting 13 percent of boys and 9 percent of girls. Anaemia is also highly prevalent among women and children. 39 percent of non-pregnant women are anaemic and rates exceed 62 percent for children under 5, with a peak at 90 percent in children aged between 6 and 11 months. Cultural practices result in very low food diversity among young children, who are mostly fed plain rice porridge. It is estimated that undernutrition costs the country US$ 41 million a year – between 1 and 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – in lost productivity, poor work performance and increased health costs.
WFP works in close collaboration and coordination with the Government of Timor-Leste, with a view to strengthening its capacities for delivering social safety programmes, and with other partners including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).
What the World Food Programme is doing in Timor Leste
To enable future generations to develop their full potential and contribute to the achievement of SDG2, WFP is concentrating efforts on eradicating malnutrition, with a strong focus on adolescent girls and boys. While treating existing malnutrition through the provision of specialized nutritious foods, WFP is promoting awareness of nutrition and other issues – including antenatal care, complementary feeding practices, reproductive health, hygiene and sanitation – to effectively address the root causes of stunting through a gender-transformative approach.
In support of the national action plans and strategies on Zero Hunger, WFP will contribute to building the evidence base for nutrition programming and provide technical assistance for the implementation of food fortification strategies with particular focus on rice fortification.
WFP is working with line ministries and through national food security and nutrition fora to enhance the capacity of national and sub-national institutions to sustainably deliver, monitor, and evaluate social safety programmes including, but not limited to, school meals.