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Considerations Towards Sustainable Infrastructure Development in Urban Areas  


Jonas Rabinovitch, Senior Policy Adviser, Urban Development Bureau for Development Policy (BDP), UNDP


This paper outlines the infrastructure conditions in East Timor, taking into consideration the pre-crisis situation and the post-crisis conditions.  The main challenge is to improve infrastructure services in a sustainable manner, from a people-centred perspective.  Given the special conditions in East Timor, the response to current infrastructure challenges should consider the urgent need to re-think conventional approaches.  This presentation will outline the infrastructure situation in East Timor, key issues, possible approaches to be considered and opportunities for improvement.


This paper refers to infrastructure not only from the purely “hardware” perspective, but also from a “software” people-centered perspective.  In a broad sense, infrastructure is generally related to housing, transport, water, sanitation, drainage, waste management, communications, roads, and other aspects.        


The deficient conditions of infrastructure in East Timor were made even worse by the recent crisis in September 1999, when anti-independence militia promoted violence, looting and arson throughout the entire country, as is well known.


It is estimated that some 85,000 to 90,000 houses were damaged or destroyed during the crisis.  In urban areas the rate of destruction was between 70% and 100% of the housing stock.  Before the crisis, 52% of households had no access to clean drinking water and 62% had no access to sanitation facilities.  This situation was made worse as the water supply and sanitation systems were not spared from destruction during the crisis.  For example, pumps, vehicles, treatment plants, offices and pipelines were severely damaged. 


An overview of the latest figures available in the Common Country Assessment, recently prepared by the various UN agencies operating in East Timor, makes it clear that the pre-crisis infrastructure conditions were far from desirable, but were made acutely worse by the events in September 1999.  The current situation indicates a lack of both hardware (physical facilities and equipment), software (education, local capacity for operation and maintenance, governance and institutional development) and, of course, a need for considerable levels of investment expected to be generated from the international community.  This paper argues, however, that the infrastructure problems of East Timor will not be solved in a sustainable manner if the question of funding for hardware is developed independently from the human “software” considerations discussed above.                     



The main challenges to be considered when developing infrastructure in a more sustainable manner are outlined below.  


Institutional Challenges

What institutions will be responsible for managing and operating infrastructure facilities?


Capacity Building Challenges

Are there enough trained persons to run the system? Who will be trained and how? 


Technology Choice and Affordability, Investment, Technology Choice and Cost-Recovery Challenges   

What technological solutions could be considered financially, environmentally and socially sustainable?  Are they affordable? How will the systems be paid for?  Could user-fees be promoted?


Participation Challenges

Are communities being involved in designing, building and operating the system?


Gender Challenges

How will the interventions affect men and women differently?  


Education and Cultural Challenges

Are infrastructure interventions designed with a view to cultural habits? Do people understand the health benefits involved?  What type of education campaigns are needed?      


Towards a Sustainable Path

Possible approaches towards a sustainable and appropriate path, are: