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Alvaro Abrantes, ETTA Water and Sanitation Unit


Water is the most important factor for the life of human beings and for all other living things. Therefore water should be conserved and kept sustainable in terms of existence, quantity and quality.  


The urban centers and rural areas of East Timor are suffering equally from both water shortages and problems with water quality . The main reasons for shortages are destruction of infrastructure during post referendum violence in 1999, and poorly laid and maintained water systems. During the crisis in 1999 everything was damaged, including intakes, reservoirs and water treatment facilities (1).  


There are also many problems related to watershed management  in East Timor.  These problems include deforestation and forest fires in catchment areas that result in increased sedimentation in river basins. Such problems can be solved by conventional models of a practical and simple nature. The problems of increasing erosion and sedimentation generally arise from  rainfall and basin characteristics, and are especially influenced by the change of land use by human intervention.



1. The main problem of fresh water resources


Water represents the most important component for the life of human beings and other creatures. Water also plays a key role in successful national development and therefore should be responded to with awareness by both the government and the community.  We must be aware that water tends to become more and more scarce.


If water resources such as springs, ground water, rivers, and reservoirs (including treatment plants) are not conserved and kept sustainable, the result will be decreased development outcomes.


There are the problems of biological, chemical and physical pollution of water.  For example water quality is extremely low in the Viqueque and Manatuto districts.  In a study undertaken in the Viqueque district, only 22% of water samples met district physical, chemical and bacteriological standards, and in the Manatuto district only 25% of water samples met the same standards(2). Such water quality problems place a heavy burden on the community, on the operation and maintenance of water systems and on the water sources themselves.


Therefore fresh water resources should be maintained in a sustainable condition in terms of both quality and quantity.


Watershed management is an integral part of water quality management - it represents one of the human efforts to prevent deterioration of water quality and allow sustainable utilisation of water resources of a standard quality.


At the present time, the quantity and quality of water resources in East Timor are decreasing. During the dry season, spring and river discharge is decreasing while community activity, e.g. grass fire and tree (forest) felling is increasing. Decreasing water quality also results from pollution from domestic and industrial wastes(3).


In coastal areas of East Timor communities can also have the additional problem of salt- water intrusion into wells.


2. The main problems with water quantity and quality management;


¨      Imbalance between the demand for water and the capacity of water supply.

¨      Decrease in water quality and quantity during the dry season which is caused by disposal of domestic and industrial waste.

¨      The increase in soil erosion and sedimentation caused by poor condition of vegetation in the catchment area, which eventually results in sedimentation and lower storage capacity of reservoirs.


The decrease in water quality and quantity, and increased sedimentation of reservoirs will result in negative impacts on the national Water and Sanitation Strategy, because it will increase operational costs for the water treatment plants.




Water quality has become one of the dominant problems in the management of water resources, so that the principal objective of water managers is to protect the quality of water resources.


Protection of water quality must be based on a master plan, which must among other things, include water quality standards and continuous monitoring.


The monitoring and reporting must be reliable, because it will be used for the preparation of measures to improve water quality.


If water quality is improved, limited water quantity can be utilized to fulfill various needs and water saving efforts can also be accomplished.


The scope of the Master Plan should include the following basic requirements;


1.      Consistent with the government policies, programs, laws, and regulations.

2.      All the sector programs must consist of watershed management, water quality and quantity management, flood control management and river environment management.

3.      Water demand forecasts by domestic, agriculture, industry, and river management sectors, and other sectors that have water requirements.

4.      Water resources development programs.

5.      Comprehensive programs for realizing equal access to water for all inhabitants living in the basin.

6.      Environment assessment, requirements and methodologies.





Water is vital for life.  Water resources should be conserved and kept in a sustainable condition both from a quality and quantity point of view.


One way is to carry out water resources quality and quantity management in accordance with a master plan, which has been set up to control and reverse the of degradation of water resources.