Timor-Leste announced its first case of Covid-19 on March 21. The same day, President of the Republic of Timor Leste H.E Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo declared a State of Emergency and urged all Timorese to take precautions by following the directions set by health agencies to protected against Covid-19.
By June 30, all of Timor’s 24 cases registered Covid-19 cases were declared recovered and Timor Leste was listed as being free of Covid-19. However, the government urged the public to continue preventive measures. "It is not time to declare victory. Before there is a vaccine, we have to be vigilant,” said H.E Taur Matan Ruak, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.
Between late March and June, Timor Leste closed its land border with Indonesia and closely monitored international flights with all passengers required to quarantine for 14 days in a pre-approved location.
Unfortunately, on August 2, the Timor Leste government announced a renewed State of Emergency, after a foreigner who entered Timor Leste tested positive for Covid-19. The government will continue to increase prevention efforts and urge the public to adhere to existing preventive regulations.
Significant Economic Impacts: Timor Leste’s GDP may contract by up to 5 percent according to the World Bank. The Petroleum Fund lost $1.8 billion due to financial market shocks, according to the Central Bank, which will affect government revenues. This may mean medium-term consequences due to reducing the resources available to invest in future generations.
International travel restrictions, trade disruptions, and public health measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have impacted domestic economic activity, especially for around 250,000 of the most vulnerable people in the informal sector.
Disruptions to international trade routes can lead to higher transport and storage costs, which increase the prices of traded goods – including food and health supplies.
A US$250 million withdrawal from the government’s Petroleum Fund was approved - 60 percent of which is allocated to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. A government economic stimulus package of $142 million - equivalent to 10 percent of GDP - has included a direct cash subsidy for households with an income below $500 per month.
Tourism (worth $19.2 million in 2018) has been the hardest-hit sector, given the travel restrictions imposed worldwide. A large number of departing expatriate workers has also meant a drop in spending and foreign income, as well as disruptions to project implementation due to disrupted business processes.
Major losses for the most vulnerable:
A UNDP Timor Leste socio-economic impact assessment conducted in June and July 2020 found that 58 percent of households surveyed lost their incomes as a result of shutdowns during responses to Covid-19. Nearly twice as many women (23 percent) had to stop work completely.
Of those interview 60 percent had no savings and 30% had loans requiring repayment.
Among medium and small enterprises, 81.8 percent experienced reductions in income, 47.5 percent experienced temporary shutdowns and 27.3% were unable to pay their workers.
Among the hardest hit were farmers, who often relied on production to feed themselves as well as make an income. Unpredictable weather patterns combined with economic shutdowns meant that many farmers were unable to buy food when their crops failed in a late wet season in March, April and May, 2020. Outside of Dili, 74 percent of households are involved in agricultural activities.
Such activities were also the hardest hit as they deal with perishable products that could not be stored as food distribution and sales networks shut down during the harshest phases of Timor’s Covid-19 response.
Among survey respondents, 37.6 percent had experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in the previous month – meaning they were forced to skip meals or to go for a day or more without food.
UNDP's Offer 2.0
On March 12, the UNDP, WHO and UNICEF rapidly mobilised to contribute to the government’s launch of a National Prevention of Coronavirus Campaign.
Most significantly, on April 1 the UNDP signed a $5.7 million agreement with the government of Timor-Leste to procure COVD-related equipment as well as non-COVID-19 essential medicines and commodities. The first load of these supplies arrived in late May.
With official health briefings from the WHO and handwashing workshops by UNICEF, in under 48 hours the UNDP printed over 40,000 brochures to be distributed among the country’s 12 municipalities at a briefing on March 12.
Through its youth and entrepreneur networks, the UNDPs Accelerator Lab and Knua Juventude Fila Liman have also kick-started large-scale domestic hand sanitiser production using 100% local ingredients and knowledge. KJFL has also led the way with 3D-printing over 500 face shields for front-line health workers.
The UNDP has also continued its awareness campaign with public messaging on social media. This includes videos produced with the WHO and UNICEF on COVID-19 prevention; the role and rights of children; and a children’s hand washing song, with more to come.
To understand more about the non-health impacts of the virus and its disruptions, the UNDP has allocated specialist staff to conduct a socio-economic impact assessment in the coming weeks.
Local communities are also creating resilience measures that the UNDP has been working to up-scale. The youth-focused teams at Knua Juventude Fila Liman and Accelerator Lab have made progress on 100% local hand sanitiser production and distribution by formalising existing networks and capacities.
The UNDP Decentralisation Project’s partnership with the Ministry of State Administration also enabled the UNDP to assist information and materials distribution to rural communities. This has included the construction of over 70 hand-washing stations in cooperation with the Coastal Resilience Building Project’s networks.
Similarly, the UNDP is directly supporting capacity expansion for community group “SUKU”, who sew re-usable masks and employ women and girls with disabilites.
In April UNDP staff also assisted with distribution of over 600 meal packages to victims of flooding who were severely impacted by the restrictions on work and movement during the virus response.
The UNDP is also working with the State Secretary for the Environment to improve food security and domestic value chains by supporting farmers growing locally-suitable vegetables. This includes supplementary plans to distribute bulk fresh vegetables to 25,000 vulnerable individuals and remote communities. The food baskets – sourced directly from local farmers and via the government-supported Loja dos Agricultores syndicate – will also support incomes for farmers across Timor Leste. Following circular economy principles, the project aims to multiply its economic stimulus impact by sourcing all necessary components domestically.
UNDP is supporting a media training programme to strengthen the ability of the National Parliament of Timor-Leste to produce and broadcast Parliament-related news, including and a twenty-episode civic education campaign.
This initiative is part of the COVID-19 response within the EU-UNDP Project “Strengthening Integral Local Development by Building the Capacities of the Municipal Authorities in Timor-Leste.” The measures will assist the National Parliament in maintaining regular operations and strengthen its mandate to track and monitor the government’s Covid-19 response actions.
The Parliament increased its efforts to develop and disseminate clear and concise information to citizens – especially vulnerable groups – on COVID-19 developments.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNDP globally presented a three- to six-month response offer costed at $500m covering three thematic areas:
1. Health Systems Support: $150m
2. Inclusive and Integrated Crisis Management and Response: $250m
3. Social and Economic Impact Needs Assessment and Response: $100m
Today, while health systems support and crisis management remain critical elements of our work, the scale of our social-economic offer has grown in response to country demand and reflecting the lead technical role UNDP has been asked to play within the UN System.
UNDP thanks all funding partners who provided funds for the first phase of its COVID-19 response by both agreeing to re-purpose existing commitments and providing new funding. UNDP continues to rely on additional funding from our partners to support programme countries on the immediate health crisis, including health systems support and crisis management response, and to help cover needs identified over the next 12 to 18 months.