District Outreach Program
District involvement in the conference was considered to be vital. A district outreach program was designed to facilitate discussion in the districts about sustainable development and the environment, and to bring representatives from the districts to attend the conference in Dili. The aim was to build strong networks between Dili and the districts and to ensure district participation in the conference so that conference outcomes reflected the needs and issues facing rural communities in East Timor. Relationships established through this program will provide important links between the Task Force on Sustainable Development and the districts.
The District Outreach Program involved:
One-day workshops were held in five districts during the week prior to the conference: in Manatuto, Baucau (including Los Palos and Viqueque), Aileu, Maubisse (including Same and Ainaro), and Maliana. There were close to 100 participants in the five workshops from a wide range of district and community organisations.
The workshops were organised by representatives from local groups. These were; Hak Foundation in Baucau, OMT in Manatuto, OMT in Aileu, Hak Foundation in Maubisse (covering Same and Ainaro) and Renetil in Maliana. The workshops introduced and tackled sustainable development concepts.
The workshops began with an introduction to the conference, and to the history and principles of sustainable development. The participants were able to discuss and share ideas about the environment and the importance of sustainable development for East Timor. The workshops highlighted the need to understand current environmental conditions and to protect natural resources for future generations. This included discussion about the causes of environmental degradation and how environmental conditions can be improved. Part of this discussion included how the community can preserve the environment with current customary laws and how they can enforce these themselves.
The workshops served to highlight the importance of community participation in policy and program development and implementation, and the need for action in order to improve environmental conditions.
The pre-conference workshops received a very positive response from participants as they were the first environment and development workshops to be held in the districts.
Priority environmental issues were identified by each workshop. The issues raised by each district are included below. To ensure that these issues were brought to the conference and that conference outcomes were brought back to the district, each workshop chose representatives to attend the conference. These chosen representatives travelled to Dili and participated in the whole week of the conference. They were provided with an allowance for travel, meals and accommodation.
More than 25 district representatives attended the conference. While the pre-conference workshops ensured participation of those districts, participants were also invited from other districts. Almost all districts were represented.
During the conference, district representatives met to discuss their experiences, ideas and specific issues. On the concluding day of the conference a district representative, Francisco dos Santos from Radio Communicade in Los Palos, made a presentation about the issues of concern and relevance for the rural areas.
The main points raised by the districts related to education and health. Education is a priority for the districts, where schools lack even basic facilities. For example, most students are still sitting on the floor. The issue of shortage of universities was also raised. There is only one university in East Timor thus access to education for rural youth is limited. It is hoped that universities will be established in the districts.
Health was raised as a key concern for the districts. All people in the districts (especially in villages) have inadequate health facilities. Some villages are isolated, without vehicle access and therefore medical services do not reach them. The service provided by hospitals is inadequate, and some districts, for example Viqueque, do not even have hospitals. There is also a shortage of medical staff, and staffing depends greatly on volunteers. While there are other important issues in the districts, such as deforestation education and health were considered to by the two most important issues.
After the district presentation on the concluding day, the summary of workshop outcomes, conference recommendations and a proposal for a Task Force on Sustainable Development were presented and discussed. All of these documents were endorsed by conference participants. Participants received draft copies of all of the above conference outcomes and of full workshop outcomes. They were therefore able to take conference outcomes back to their communities.
Post-conference workshops were held in the districts to share conference results and to help ensure that the Task Force on Sustainable Development has an initial relationship to the districts. The workshops discussed how relationships could be maintained. It was agreed by the workshop participants that there should be representation from each district on the Task Force. However, representation should be neutral. District members of the Task Force should not represent a political party, business or particular interests. The workshops each identified a contact person from each as an initial point of contact while the Task Force is being established.
The workshops also discussed the formation of environment teams to work on local as well as national issues. Such groups may in time be able to establish environment centres. It is planned that an environment alliance will be formed between the eastern groups based in Baucau, Los Palos and Viqueque. The Maliana workshop recommended the formation of an environment team and the groups in Maliana are committed to making this happen.
One poignant outcome of the conference is a story told at the Maliana workshop by one of the conference delegates. On her return to Maliana after the conference, she showed the conference outcomes to one of the schools. The excitement that this engendered led to action. The school was inspired to plant trees: they planted two hectares of teak on the outskirts of Maliana.
While such initiatives can clearly achieve a lot, it comes as no surprise that the district outreach program identified the need for both resources and funding for sustainable development and the environment in the districts.
Following are the priority issues that were identified by the workshops that were held in the districts.
q Climate change and consequent environmental degradation (due to the clearing of forests and the use of agricultural chemicals);
q Protection of the remaining natural forests on the south coast;
q Waste management systems.
q Climate Change;
q Permission to clear forests. Government policy permitting forest clearance has led to the greatest general environmental degradation;
q The top-down system of policy making without community participation;
q To limit the use of agricultural chemicals by finding alternatives that protect the natural environment;
q Protection of natural resources;
q Reforestation is vital due to the impacts of shifting agriculture and illegal herding;
q Deforestation and land clearing that are caused by a weak legal system and ignorance of existing customary laws.
q Government policies represent the largest opportunity for environmental degradation;
q Need for education about the environment in school curriculums (primary and secondary);
q Urban planning is needed, and decisions need to be made regarding the location of industry. The waste management system must reflect the community’s needs, and use of natural resources must be within the carrying capacity of natural systems;
q Protection and conservation of natural resources;
q Prohibition of waste importation;
q Economic development must not make the environment a victim because nature is unable to sustain long term exploitation;
q Community participation in decision making.
q Forest clearing is a clear cause of environmental degradation;
q The government has ignored customary laws which are in place in the community and which are indirectly able to protect the environment;
q Waste management systems;
q Illegal herding of cattle;
q Use of chemicals to catch ocean fish;
q Climate change/global warming.
The outcomes of the conference indicate a strong desire and need for community participation in the planning and implementation of development programs. The communities that were involved in the sustainable development workshops raised the important issue of environmental degradation, the need for transparent policies and the need for education. There is a need for commitment to education, as part of the process of building awareness and strengthening communities. Community education is vital for sustainable development. This will rely on distribution of information equally between the district communities and the city centre as well as on development of facilities for comprehensive education and training.
This book of conference proceedings will be distributed to the districts. It is hoped that it will be a useful handbook for education and development planning in the rural areas of East Timor.