Artigo de Sérgio Vieira de Mello sobre a reconstrução do Timor e sustentabilidade

Recreating sustainability

Artigo de Sergio Vieira de Mello sobre a reconstrução do Timor e sustentabilidade
Idioma: Inglês

Sergio Vieira de Mello describes how rebuilding East Timor, after its destruction,
offers an opportunity to design a sustainable future

The United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) has a unique mandate in East Timor. It is administering and helping rebuild a country that was thoroughly destroyed and looted in the violence of September 1999. It is also assisting the Timorese people to gain full independence and to ensure that a skilled, professional Timorese administration is in place to provide citizens with a full range of government services.

East Timor is not just in the process of rebuilding itself, but of recreating itself – both politically, with Timorese for the first time participating fully in the electoral process; and socio-economically, with systems of commerce and government services being established that are responsive to all East Timorese.

Extensive damage
This process provides a wonderful opportunity to correct past injustices and inequalities, particularly in terms of human, social and economic rights. But it is also a chance to design a sustainable environmental strategy that makes efficient use of the country’s natural resources while safeguarding them for future generations. UNTAET and the East Timor Transitional Administration have started this process.

East Timor was once lush with primary and secondary forests, while the sea around it was rich in aquatic life and extensive coral reefs. But decades of neglect and exploitation have taken their toll. The extensive damage to the Timorese environment now threatens the livelihoods of thousands of its people, and the nation’s future productivity.

What could we expect in 20 years were current trends to continue? Some of our own experts paint a bleak picture. The population of the capital, Dili, would increase dramatically, due to an influx of rural East Timorese forced to abandon their farms as erosion degraded the soil and, in the process, the nation’s once-rich agricultural potential. The last of the nation’s rich forest would be all but gone, sold off or burned: the consequent flooding would leach nutrients from the soil, while droughts would harden it to a rock-like consistency. Landslides would take their toll, closing roads and bringing the nation’s commerce to a standstill. The silt from erosion would flow into the sea and suffocate Timor’s precious coral reefs, which have been drawing tourists from around the world.

Preliminary data from the Government of Indonesia illustrate the rapid deforestation that has occurred over the past 25 years. In 1975, 50 per cent of East Timor’s land was primary and secondary forests. By 1989 it was 41 per cent. But by 1999, only 1 per cent of such forests remained.

Ultimately, the most important step is to foster the empowerment of communities

Much of the deforestation, particularly under Indonesian rule, was caused by logging of precious teak, redwood, sandalwood and mahogany for export. In addition the Indonesian policy of moving Timorese closer to the roads for security reasons led to farming practices – burning and wood-cutting – that put added pressure on forests on nearby hills and water catchment areas.

Widespread cutting of firewood for domestic consumption is currently exacerbating the problem. In the aftermath of the widespread destruction of the country in 1999, many Timorese were left unemployed, and now make ends meet by cutting and selling fuelwood.

Up to now, UNTAET and the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) – the umbrella group for many political parties and most non-governmental organizations – have had to focus principally on short-term problems. We have been operating in emergency mode – channelling limited attention and aid to immediate humanitarian and social concerns.

Long-term sustainability
Now, as the East Timor economy is being rebuilt, with extensive reconstruction and development activities under way, it is particularly important that an effective strategy of sustainable environmental management be in place to ensure that such new growth does not damage the nation’s natural resources. UNTAET has been proactive in ensuring that environmental concerns are integrated into its agenda and addressed by all sections. The recent establishment of an Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) is key to this: its role is to ensure that development, policy, planning and administration are environmentally sound across all sectors. The EPU has 11 Timorese staff, who are currently undergoing intensive environmental management training. When this is completed, they will work closely with the EPU’s international staff to ensure long-term strategies for protecting East Timor’s environment.

The key components of an effective environmental strategy are:

  1. A national education campaign on the dangers of deforestation and ways to counter it.
  2. A nationwide seed propagation programme to establish community nurseries and to replant hillsides and eroded areas throughout the country with fast-growing fuel species and other trees.
  3. Programmes to subsidize national kerosene prices and to give away cookers to people in rural areas, thereby promoting a shift away from the use of fuelwood.

Any effective environmental strategy to address deforestation will have to include efforts to create jobs that give poor people options for earning an income other than by cutting wood – combined with stringent policies against the felling and export of precious timber.

Ultimately, the most important step is to foster the empowerment of communities. East Timor’s greatest resource is its people. They must have a sense of ownership and become stewards of the land if deforestation and erosion are to be reversed and the reseeding effort is to begin.

To assist this process of community involvement in environmental management, UNTAET, in partnership with the Norwegian Government and the United Nations Development Programme, is in the process of implementing nation-wide consultations that will identify East Timorese environmental priority issues. This process will be used to develop a comprehensive environmental management policy that will lay the foundations for sustainable development in East Timor

Sergio Vieira de Mello is Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Transitional Administrator, UNTAET, Dili, East Timor.


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