On behalf of the Government and People of East Timor, I welcome you all to our country.
I thank you for offering us your time and your talents, skills and knowledge. I believe that your deliberations over the next few days will provide us with valuable insights for how we as a young and shattered country can move forward into a sustainable future.
Sustainable development is a new concept for us in East Timor. It is novel because sustainable development has not been practiced in East Timor for hundreds of years.
We do not understand sustainable development because over centuries of colonial rule East Timor has been subjected to the non-sustainable exploitation of its natural resources. For example our sandalwood was exploited firstly by the Chinese and then the Portuguese, so that by 1948 there was absolutely none left. Then for the last twenty-five years Indonesia has taken what it could from our environment. Yet not only have others exploited our natural resources with no thought to our future: our own people slash and burn our depleted environment. Our one resource to be overlooked by the colonists is our mineral resources and these we must consider carefully.
As we launch this conference on sustainable development we have to look at the current situation. Our country has been devastated. The few remaining resources are in poor condition. In other words we have very little to sustain us.
We have some big challenges to face and overcome before we can even think seriously about truly sustainable development in East Timor.
We look to this conference to come up with some innovative solutions for repairing the damage done to our ecology and for restoring our natural resources. We need to hear how the East Timorese people can be intimately involved in all aspects of resource restoration.
We, the leadership, believe that it is important to preserve what little we have. You are the experts – show us how to preserve our forests and lands. Show us how to conserve our ecology while at the same time providing sustainable livelihoods for the people who will be asked to be guardians of those resources.
How do we heal our reefs that have been ruined by senseless activity and dynamite? How do we engage the costal communities in the regeneration of these marine resources?
Discuss also how we can base our development on the generation of sustainable energy – a cornerstone of sustainability.
Importantly, identify for us how we can build the financial support necessary – for it is clear that there can be no truly sustainable development without sustainable financing and funding for such programs.
I challenge you to explore and find with us ways in which our own culture can develop solutions for improved sustainability.
All discussion in East Timor needs to also include ways in which we can deal with our colonial legacy, which continues to affect and deprive us of our basic rights. These remnants of colonialism injure, maim and kill just as surely as any remnants of war. While hundreds of millions of dollars are spent removing the physical, rusting remnants of war – people like us continue to suffer from the continuing damage caused by the psychological remnants of colonialism; by the divisions left behind in our societies.
Your participants might be able to explore ways in which sustainable development can incorporate efforts to rid ourselves of our colonial legacy. How do we reconcile with each other as we reconcile with Mother Earth?
Our people do not have the luxury of discussing the pros and cons of sustainable development – they have enough to think of just trying to feed their families day to day. As one Pacific Islander said to a visiting scientist, “One man’s biodiversity is another man’s lunch.”
We cannot rely too much on external solutions. Because of all that has happened, Timor is unique and has exceptional needs. Our need is urgent because if programs for future sustainability are not put in place now what little we have left is put at risk.
We think our situation may be closer to those of our Pacific Island neighbours. They have also suffered through colonialism and have managed to develop their small resources and create functioning democracies.
I hope this conference will show us how we can look at our Pacific neighbours and enlist their experience and support in our efforts.
You can also share with us the lessons that can be learnt from our South East Asian brothers and sisters. We have much goodwill from Asia and we trust you will explore how to harness these positive expressions from our region.
Indeed, we will be guided by the ‘Program of Action’, which was agreed at the United Nations Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Developing Island States, in Barbados in 1994. The Program was agreed to by over 160 countries and incorporates the major areas for international co-operation.
Perhaps our UN colleagues here in Dili can advise on how to use the Barbados Plan as a base for our future collaboration.
We challenge this conference to recognise these facts and help us design and implement a Sustainable Development Plan for our children and our children’s children. After all – “We don’t inherit this land from our parents – we borrow it from our children!”
We also need to explore how to mobilize the youth of East Timor to restore their birthright and finds ways to instil in our young people the desire to develop sustainably. Let’s discuss options for the kind of training our young people need.
This conference needs to investigate forms of science and technology proven to work. We cannot afford to be a laboratory – we need tried and tested technologies. We look for solutions that are appropriate for our culture that are able to fulfil our needs.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that made this event possible by their financial support, principally, USAID, HIVOS, CAFOD, UNDP, TROCAIRE, the Embassy of Finland, Timor Aid, UNICEF, NZAid, AUSAid and the Canada Fund. UNDP along with the Norwegian Government have bought a team of consultants, three Norwegians and three East Timorese to assess environmental needs here. We hope that UNDP, and all these agencies, will continue to work in close partnerships with the Government and other NGOs in the area of sustainable development in East Timor.
I would like to thank all of you who have travelled far from your homes to be here with us in East Timor to help us find ways to build our nation sustainably.
I hope that the outcomes of this conference will mean that the people of East Timor will also be able to thank you for working in partnership with us, to map out an exciting future of hope – a future of hope built on the restoration of our ecology and the sustainable and humane development of our resources and our people.
Good Luck and Best Wishes in these important deliberations.