17 February 2001
The first major Conference on Sustainable Development in East Timor, held from January 25 to 31 was an extremely successful event. More than 700 people attended the conference. The Conference brought together international experts and East Timorese specialists to speak on a comprehensive range of topics and to participate in workshops. The workshops were very well attended, with people taking advantage of the opportunity to be involved in discussions, and to prioritise issues and develop strategies for sustainable development in East Timor.
The conference accepted for East Timor, the internationally recognised definition that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Sustainable development addresses the linkages between environment, economy and social well-being.
The conference provided an important opportunity for raising awareness and knowledge about sustainable development and the environment in East Timor. It served to forge strong networks between East Timorese and international guests.
The conference identified the need for sustainable development principles and guidelines to be adopted in future planning and project implementation. To achieve this, the conference recommended that national development planning includes the drafting of a sustainable development strategy.
On the concluding day, the Conference endorsed a key conference outcome - the establishment of a ‘Task Force on sustainable development’. The National University of Timor Lorosa'e rose to the occasion and accepted to house the Task Force at the University. Over the coming months this Task Force will be established and a plan of action developed and implemented. The Task Force will include stakeholders from all sectors including, the university, NGOs, ETTA, church, business, and the community. The Task Force will carry forward the strategies and recommendations of the conference, and will be able to contribute to a national sustainable development strategy.
Workshops were held in six districts before the conference. More than 25 rural representatives from eight districts attended the conference. The organisers of the conference deliberately sought out the involvement of people from the districts to ensure representation from National to the village level. On the closing day of the conference a District representative spoke about the issues of concern for the rural areas. Follow-up workshops in the districts will share conference results, and will ensure that the Task Force has an initial relationship to these areas.
There were six overarching recommendations endorsed by the conference. These included the key recommendation for sustainable development to be written into East Timor’s Constitution. The need for a consistent set of sustainable development principles and guidelines for reviewing policies, programs and projects was also recommended. The conference recommendations stressed the need to address some of the acute unsustainable concerns without delay, such as land tenure rights, deforestation of watersheds and uncontrolled fishing in the southern waters of East Timor. There was a recommendation for more participation from civil society in decision making. On a regional and global level, the conference recommended that East Timor prioritise participation in existing multilateral and sustainable development agreements. The importance of negotiations over the Timor Gap, and equitable and sustainable use of resources was raised as a priority by conference attendees.
A three page summary of workshop results was also endorsed by the conference. The summary document identifies some of the main issues, priorities and strategies that arose from the workshops. The main themes identified by the workshops were the need for; sustainable economic development, education and capacity building at all levels of society, transparent and integrated planning processes, clear policy development in consultation with the community, a transparent system of regulations, enforcement and penalties, and recognition of traditional structures.
Further Outcomes of the Conference
After the conference Dr. Arthur Hanson from the Canadian based International Institute forSustainable Development had a series of meetings with departments of the East Timor Transitional Authority. He gave a special address to the ETTA Cabinet, in a meeting chaired by Mr Sergio Viera de Mello, that further discussed the outcomes of the conference. Dr. Hanson also gave a lecture on sustainable agriculture at the National University of Timor Lorosa'e to an eager crowd of 300 people.
Many of the international guests are interested to have ongoing involvement in East Timor. For example, the Australian based Ecological Architects Association is seeking funding to set up a demonstration sustainable design projects in East Timor.
As a direct result of the conference ETTA Environment Protection Unit, and Water and Sanitation Unit are establishing an interdepartmental committee on waste management.
To comprehensively document and disseminate conference outcomes, a book of conference proceedings will be produced. It will include workshop outcomes, recommendations, and a summary of papers presented. A set of conference materials will be available on the World Wide Web very soon. Check on www.timoraid.org
Conference results clearly indicate that sustainable development should be the basis for planning and implementing development in East Timor.
The coordinating committee would like to thank everyone who supported and participated in the conference.