Building Timor-Leste

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Dirty Dili.

I was in Dili a few days ago for one of my frequent trips. Thankfully I will be going back full time again in January – but on this occasion I got terribly dirty and very depressed because we got the basics wrong.

For those of us who see Dili from two wheels, as opposed to four, the last few weeks have been instructive.  Dili is dirtier than I can ever remember it. In fact it is at times filthy. When its dry, there is so much dust and other nasty stuff in the air, driving a motorcycle now involves respiratory health hazards. Its sometimes impossible to drive on two wheels without safety glasses for all the stuff in the air.  When its wet the drainage system overflows and brings alot of lovely things with it.

Back in the dreamy days of UNTAET some in the international community had aspirations of creating the world’s first wireless country, the next Bali cum Singapore. It has not turned out that way, and I could not help but wonder how things would have turned out without such foreign lofty and expensive dreams.  But what were the engineers doing?

Lofty UNTAET

It is however still a dream to hit the hills on my Megapro – refitted by a friend from Mehara, Lautem.  And let me tell you, they are some of the prettiest hills around, and best seen on two wheels.

Laclubar to Remexio

Getting Air

But I digress, back to the dirt.  There has been a perfect storm of things to bring this dirty Dili about.  Rain storms, a building boom, more rain storms, weak infrastructure, and some serious urbanisation.

Firstly, there when it rains hard it floods portions of central Dili, and its now a Timorese facebook sport to post photos of parts of Dili under water. Once the waters break the limited capacity of Dili’s drainage system the mud, rubbish, and raw sewage gets to roam free. If memory serves me correctly the international community has never gotten around to helping out to fix Dili’s drainage system. So much for the presence of hundreds peacekeeping force engineers – and a few billion dollars.

Knee Deep

Presidential Palace

When it rains in floods

So what is one result of this? Once the waters subside, the effluent is left on the streets, given time to dry and then morphs into dust, waste and live bacteria.

Secondly, in 2005 Timor-Leste had a budget of $150 million/annum and now its looking like a billion dollar budget will be passed for 2011.  Certainly, its a good thing to see the Government have some funds to put in place to rebuild Dili (and hopefully other parts of Timor-Leste). However, the demolishing of old buildings and the new construction works, bringing with them more heavy equipment trundling around Dili than ever before, is further adding to the festival of rubbish in the air.

Building Boom

Thirdly, with the added cash comes consumption. I used to marvel at the lack of rubbish in Timor-Leste.  Indeed, outside of Dili its still almost an entirely pristine island. So much so I often wonder if it was a good thing that Timor-Leste’s development was stunted for centuries. Then again I remember the terribly low life expectancy and think again.

With consumption comes rubbish and waste. This, pardon the pun, crap is really giving the city a facelift, of the wrong variety. Just a few minutes after any downpour / flood you will see tonnes of plastic bottles, bags and sewage flow into Dili harbour.  After a recent downpour I received an SMS from someone – forwarded to me I think – stating: “The sea outside Dili Beach Hotel has hundreds of plastic bottles bobbing about in it. I must hurriedly think of a metaphor for development in ‘rai doben’.”  I popped down through the dust and mud and got the below shot.

Dili Effluent - zoom

Notably, the Government recently released its stats on the census.  Timor-Leste’s population is growing fast, but not nearly as fast as was forecast – however Dili’s population has grown by 33% in just 6 years……  from 175,000 in 2004 to 235,000 in 2010. That is quite startling.  In 1975 only about 20,000 people lived in Dili.  It also accounts for alot more beer cans, sewage, plastic bags, discarded water bottles and human waste.

Then I think back to the minimum 6 rotations of several different UN engineering battalions that were in Timor-Leste from 1999-2004.  At the cost of countless millions not a finger was lifted to maintain, develop or improve Dili’s drainage system.  Capacity was present.  The will was not.

But 1 in 4 Timorese now live in Dili.

When I talk to my Timorese friends of the older generation they muse about a quaint but orderly and clean town with wide roads and plenty of cool shaded places to watch the time slide by.  Then came a civil war, invasion, occupation, forced urbanisation and alot of post 1999 workshops and seminars.

Dili in 1967 - with a population of just 20,000

The minute I drive past Hera to the east, Tibar to the west and Marabia to the south things return to normal.  To the unspoiled Timor-Leste I can remember just 10 years ago.  Then again, things are so much better than then in so many other ways.

Having said that wouldn’t it be a good idea to put Dili urban planning high on the agenda for the next Timor-Leste Development Partners Meeting (TLDPM) in 2011?  There is no reason why Dili could not become a beautiful place once again.  All it needs is cash, a serious plan and some even more serious waste removal/management.

Visit Timor-Leste – its a great place, especially once you get past Dili.

My favourite beach in Timor-Leste. No, I will not tell you where it is.

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24 Comments

  1. Hi, Ed —
    Were you still here this morning, when massive rainfall yesterday afternoon (which shut down the airport, among other things) and flooding (partly because storm sewers and canals clog up with plastic bottles and other garbage), cause road closings and massive traffic tie-ups? I walked the last 2 km to work, at about three times the speed cars were moving along Pantai Kelapa.

    If it’s so hard to get simple things like this right, how well will we manage with petrochemical projects with high risks of explosions and toxic pollution ?

    But I love it here — never a dull moment, as our blog http://laohamutuk.blogspot.com/ demonstrates.

    A luta continua,

  2. Edward Rees says:

    Charlie,

    Last night I was actually in Jakarta.

    A city which occasionally suffers flooding which kills people and displaces thousands. All because people did not think it through the in the beginning.

    I will be joining you full time again in January. And to all those of you who read this – read Charlie and Lao Hamutuk at their blog http://laohamutuk.blogspot.com/, its important reading.

  3. Colin Trainor says:

    Worth noting that this is not normal rainfall year, its a “La Nina” year, and some are suggesting its a “La Nina x2″ – some of the islands Timor have had no dry season whatsoever, with 1000-2000 mm of rain during May-October dry season, when normally they might expect <100 mm. Timor has also barely had a dry season.

    Topography – hills rising to 1,200 m above sea level within 5-6 km of the coast, barely any coastal plain (2-3 km wide; where Dili now sits…much was formerly saline lakes [or swamps], like Tasitolu, the last wetland) – tiny catchment areas dominated by steep slopes, high intense rainfall (e.g. 50-100 mm of rain in 1 hr) would typically lead to flooding – altered wetlands/altered stream channels, increased urbanisation, the fact that perhaps 50-80% of vegetation cover in those hills above Dili has been lost, trees continue to be cut down, and families farm plots on incredibly steep slopes above Dili, further reducing veg cover/exposing soils [plus burning; grazing by goats etc further reducing veg cover on steep slopes]…absence of integrated planning of course….are also part of the problem.

  4. Colin Trainor says:

    Should have been: “some of the islands [ABOUT] Timor have had no dry season whatsoever”

  5. Regio da Cruz Salu says:

    Hey Ed,

    I like this, the very nice pictures of flooded Dili i’ve ever seen because I was out to the district in two last weeks nor never been out to the road when flooding. But, the last pic, I bet you may want to stand a bench there for your afternoon, won’t you..heheheh…cherrsssss

  6. Edward Rees says:

    Got an exasperated email from a friend today: saying “BTW, Edward, when are you going to stop blaming UNTAET and realise that Dili has crappy drainage because of eight years of Timorese mismanagement and inability to let a proper contract? Why don’t you suggest a “pakote referendum” aimed at drains, but realistically it needs someone to be given the job to do this boring stuff year in and year out. If the government can’t do it, why don’t they give some of that $1 billion budget to UNOPS or someone else to do it for them.” He has a fair point.

  7. Helen Hill says:

    Edward, yes, I agree with you, mistakes were made during the UNTAET period which need to be fixed up, the worst tragedy in my view is the failure of Local government to get into the Constitution. If there had been a democratically elected Mayor and Council of Dili (perhaps including some of those from the older generation who remember Dili when it was an orderly City) it could have done a physical development plan, could have in place a waster recylcing system, public transport (the microlets are totally inadequate as are the taxis), and a system for incorporating the best in environmental thinking, including drainage etc., public consultations on how to deal with plastic bags and plastic bottles etc. National level politicians are not going to do it.
    I cannot agree with you that ‘All it needs is cash, a serious plan and some even more serious waste removal/management’. It needs a body of people whose task is to think about those things on a continuous basis, as do all the districts of Timor, the practice of just appointing District administrators and not making them elected people accountable to the people is half of the problem. It means that national politicians, who have other things to worry about need to add it to their list of things to do. There are a number of Timorese, including some who lived in the diaspora, who have skills directly related to city governance but who don’t get a chance to exercise them due to a lack of democratic space around these issues.

  8. Jenny says:

    According to this TL Gov Press Release of 5 Nov, scoping is underway right now for the Dili Sanitation and Drainage Masterplan.

    Government allocates 1.500.000 USD to Díli Sanitation & Drainage Masterplan

    Fri. November 05, 12:25h

    The Government of Timor-Leste and the Victorian Government have been working together in the infrastructure sector in Timor-Leste since 2008.

    In 2009, the Victorian Government provided support to the Task Force for the Timor-Leste National Infrastructure Plan, a strategic document developed to enable the Government to prioritise infrastructure projects and manage budget capacity and other constraints.

    The plan was developed to enable the Government to respond to “changes in the opportunities and challenges faced by Timor-Leste…as part of a continuous planning process”. Water and sanitation issues, particularly in the urban setting, are one of the main components of this plan.

    At the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure in Timor-Leste, an international expert group lead by the Special Advisor for the Prime Minister, Steve Bracks, recently visited Díli to present a Scoping Document to the Timor-Leste Government Council of Ministers for a Díli Sanitation & Drainage Masterplan.

    The Masterplan work will build on the information in the National Infrastructure Plan, address concerns from the Government regarding the recent flooding events in the country’s capital, and support the Draft Strategic Development Plan for 2030, which notes that “a poor basic sanitation system constitutes a risk to public health, reduces the country’s productivity and development, and has, equally a negative impact on the environment, tourism and in foreign investment”

    The Scoping Document defines the objectives and work program for the development of a comprehensive Sanitation and Drainage Masterplan in Díli, and outlines a plan for staged implementation of improvements to sanitation and drainage, and an ultimate solution operational by 2025.

    This international expert group is comprised of representatives from two of Melbourne’s largest water corporations (Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water) and other water industry experts with international experience.

    Since September this year, the Timor-Leste and Victorian Governments have been working together in a multi-national team. From Timor-Leste, national experts from the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Directorate for Water and Sanitation and other relevant Government stakeholders are involved in the project team.

    Working as a multi-national team will bring use the local expertise of the Timor-Leste Government, combined with international expertise in technical issues, project management and strategic planning of water and sanitation. The team will incorporate national and international expertise to strengthen local knowledge and skills, and develop a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ (Masterplan) for improvements to sanitation and drainage issues that currently affect Timor-Leste’s capital city.

    Between October to December, the multi-national project team will finalize the schedule of Masterplan activities planned for 2011. A multi-national steering committee (international and national counterparts) will meet regularly to coordinate a multi-national on-site project team based in Díli to develop and implement the sanitation and drainage improvements developed as part of the Masterplan.

    The multi-national team presented a first draft of the Scoping Document to the Council of Ministers, on 13thof October last week, including a preliminary schedule for the Masterplan.

    The Masterplan will be prepared by the end of 2011, and will include a strategy for the staged implementation of the construction, operation and maintenance of Díli sanitation and drainage infrastructure between now and 2025. The people of Díli may start seeing early construction activities in 2011.

    Based on presentation on the 13th of October, the Council of Ministers has made available the sum of one million and five hundred thousand American dollars for the development of the Masterplan and some early construction activities in 2011. In-kind support from Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water, in the amount of $215,000 Australian dollars will also be provided for the delivery of the completed scoping document by December of this year, and project management and technical advice during 2011.

  9. Jenny says:

    Government allocates 1.500.000 USD to Díli Sanitation & Drainage Masterplan

    Fri. November 05, 12:25h

    The Government of Timor-Leste and the Victorian Government have been working together in the infrastructure sector in Timor-Leste since 2008.

    In 2009, the Victorian Government provided support to the Task Force for the Timor-Leste National Infrastructure Plan, a strategic document developed to enable the Government to prioritise infrastructure projects and manage budget capacity and other constraints.

    The plan was developed to enable the Government to respond to “changes in the opportunities and challenges faced by Timor-Leste…as part of a continuous planning process”. Water and sanitation issues, particularly in the urban setting, are one of the main components of this plan.

    At the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure in Timor-Leste, an international expert group lead by the Special Advisor for the Prime Minister, Steve Bracks, recently visited Díli to present a Scoping Document to the Timor-Leste Government Council of Ministers for a Díli Sanitation & Drainage Masterplan.

    The Masterplan work will build on the information in the National Infrastructure Plan, address concerns from the Government regarding the recent flooding events in the country’s capital, and support the Draft Strategic Development Plan for 2030, which notes that “a poor basic sanitation system constitutes a risk to public health, reduces the country’s productivity and development, and has, equally a negative impact on the environment, tourism and in foreign investment”

    The Scoping Document defines the objectives and work program for the development of a comprehensive Sanitation and Drainage Masterplan in Díli, and outlines a plan for staged implementation of improvements to sanitation and drainage, and an ultimate solution operational by 2025.

    This international expert group is comprised of representatives from two of Melbourne’s largest water corporations (Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water) and other water industry experts with international experience.

    Mr Rob Skinner, a representative from the international expert group and Melbourne Water Managing Director, advises that the discussions on the Masterplan held with the Timor-Leste Government last week will be the first of many. “It is important for the Timor-Leste community and the Government to be involved in project developments every step of the way”, Mr Skinner said.

    Since September this year, the Timor-Leste and Victorian Governments have been working together in a multi-national team. From Timor-Leste, national experts from the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Directorate for Water and Sanitation and other relevant Government stakeholders are involved in the project team.

    Working as a multi-national team will bring use the local expertise of the Timor-Leste Government, combined with international expertise in technical issues, project management and strategic planning of water and sanitation. The team will incorporate national and international expertise to strengthen local knowledge and skills, and develop a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ (Masterplan) for improvements to sanitation and drainage issues that currently affect Timor-Leste’s capital city.

    Between October to December, the multi-national project team will finalize the schedule of Masterplan activities planned for 2011. A multi-national steering committee (international and national counterparts) will meet regularly to coordinate a multi-national on-site project team based in Díli to develop and implement the sanitation and drainage improvements developed as part of the Masterplan.

    The multi-national team presented a first draft of the Scoping Document to the Council of Ministers, on 13thof October last week, including a preliminary schedule for the Masterplan.

    The Masterplan will be prepared by the end of 2011, and will include a strategy for the staged implementation of the construction, operation and maintenance of Díli sanitation and drainage infrastructure between now and 2025. The people of Díli may start seeing early construction activities in 2011.

    Based on presentation on the 13th of October, the Council of Ministers has made available the sum of one million and five hundred thousand American dollars for the development of the Masterplan and some early construction activities in 2011. In-kind support from Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water, in the amount of $215,000 Australian dollars will also be provided for the delivery of the completed scoping document by December of this year, and project management and technical advice during 2011.

  10. Simon Poppelwell says:

    Yes your friend does have a fair point more than fair actually.

  11. Rob Wesley-Smith says:

    I’m tempted to despair – I’ve seen no evidence of town planning by anyone. The Chinese offer a Presidential Palace, so it is built right on the main road, which is often block off for functions. When the foundations were dug the water flowed out to waste, so local residents’ wells went down. People don’t seem to realise Dili is built on an ex-swamp, close to sea level. Now they plan to have the Chinese build a military base on the sea-side to the Presidential palace. I have been part of a sister city relationship with Dili, but we can’t get responses from management. I think the management of Dili district need to lift their game. Then again, it took many states in Australia more than 10 years after self-government to start recognisably good government, that’s after zillions of years of democracy, so maybe Dili will come good before it gets totally drowned!! Hope so!!

  12. Ian Ross says:

    Hi Ed,

    Good post. I wrote a short blog last week that touched on similar things. It doesn’t go into much detail, so a few more thoughts below. I’ll write a longer post when I’ve gathered more thoughts on this issue.
    http://ianintimor.blogspot.com/2010/11/udan-boot-big-rain.html

    I agree with most of your analysis, but I think it is also important to recognise a few things on the drainage issue.

    1. We should at least recognise that the government has started to do something. Xanana has roped in mates from Melbourne Water to come up with a “sanitation master plan” which will cover drainage. Melbourne Water will give free TA, the GoTL will pay for the implementation. Any resulting plan must clearly ensure poor people get affordable sanitation options.

    2. I disagree with Charlie that redesigning an entire drainage system is “simple”. Sorting it out will be neither simple nor cheap. There is virtually zero networked sewerage in Dili, and the drainage ditches will require a complete overhaul. Any attempt to sort drainage must clearly be coordinated with efforts on water supply and sanitation/sewers, as they are all linked. The capital costs of this will be immense and it needs to be got right, so the system lasts as Dili expands further. It is not a case of a few UN engineers digging some more ditches.

    3. Most Timorese live in rural areas, where rates of access to water and sanitation are *far* lower than in Dili (data concerns aside). c.300 children die of diarrhoea every year in TL, mostly in the foho. Any mortality associated with Dili’s drainage issues will be nothing like as high as that. There is therefore an equity issue to consider here. Should the government blow tens of millions on Dili’s drainage while half the rural population is drinking unsafe water? I don’t have an answer, and the question is much more complicated than I’m characterising it, but it does at least deserve to be asked.

    All of this is obviously also linked to solid waste management, plastic bottles and otherwise; Charlie is right that this is a major cause of the drains getting blocked. I completely agree that urban planning needs to be high on the agenda, particularly as with current rapid urbanisation, these problems are only going to get worse.

    Thanks, I very much enjoy your twitter feed and blogs. Keep ‘em coming.

    Ian
    http://twitter.com/ianrossuk

  13. Paulo says:

    “All it needs is cash, …” Even more?!? Planning and serious management, yes.

  14. Edward Rees says:

    Paulo/Ian/Rob/Helen/Simon – you are all of course quite correct!

  15. Asuwain says:

    Dear Edward and all foreigners
    I am as Public Servant at a government institution which is in charge of Urban Issues. The DIli city never been Better that we all wish. I have an Urban and Regional Background and since I’ve been in this employment I did not understand that what kind of approaches for the DIli’s development. There is no Planning for its Spatial Usage, There is no plan for utilities and many other infrastructure. You can imagine all physic development that currently running in DIli city is not based on any Planning. If it continuously occur,,,How about the Condition of Dili for the 2 or Up to 5 years come???

    I hope the Decision Makers would pay close attention in the DIli cities Problems that make Many Cluster of its resident felt uncomfortable.

    Cheers
    Profirio

  16. Dominic Elson says:

    Hi Ed,

    I wonder if the 27 hour power cut that has just ended is also connected to the water, sanitation and hydrology system. According to EDTL (I know, I know…) the outage was caused by ‘water damage’. I thought power cables were designed to be water proof, but I could be wrong. More likely to have been backhoe/digger strike followed by water damage, I suspect.

    Of course we should be more concerned about the complete absence of infrastructure in the districts rather than a few inconvenienced malai in the capital. But the economy is disrupted by these frequent outages, as is the business of government, and that in turn has a knock-on effect for the country as a whole.

    Until now, I have suspected that the sewage overflows and power outages are not a priority for the UN and NGO hierarchy because they are not affected by them in their compounds with decent gensets. But a 24+ hour blackout changes things, as the generators had to be turned off for a while, and maybe some malai experienced their first ever blackout. Now they just need to get out of their Prado and on their bike during a flood and get some local colour (and a few unexpected things stuck in their spokes…)

    See you back here in the New Year. Bring a torch.

  17. Edward Rees says:

    Dominic – interesting link with EDTL. Somehow I think the same issues plague electricity supply as other public services…..

  18. Edward Rees says:

    Dear Profirio – I found your introduction amusing and very telling “Dear Edward and all Foreigners”. Karik ita bo’ot hakarak atu hasoru malu iha Dili hau prontu. Obrigado. Edward

  19. […] Peace Dividend Marketplace – Timor-Leste « Dirty Dili. […]

  20. Loron Triste says:

    Maun,

    Planning? Ha! And of course it is all UNTAET’s fault, look at the new port extension that has just finished after what, a year? It’s very clever because it prevents all that rubbish you photographed from getting into the bay and creates a swimming pool for the kids in-lieu of the civic pool right opposite it (most people don’t realise it but that fence to the west of Church Motael hides a big pool that was OPEN during UNTAET times.)

    Sarcasm aside, the port extension creates a catchment area because someone forgot to add drainage …….. no wonder it is 2 feet deep around the Port and Hotel Timor.

  21. Asuwain says:

    Bele deit Sr. Edward,,Temi FAtin Deit..Fo ita bot nia Numeru telefone mai…

  22. Crissantos says:

    Hello, Mr. Edward!
    Your favourite beach is in the backyard of my house. It’s for sale! No. Just kidding. I heard someone saying about moving the capital out of Dili. That’s a good idea. Just move it to the most peaceful place on earth ‘Oecusse’. The picture was taken from a hill. Maybe the presidential palace could be built on top of it. What a view would the president have every day at least before it is full of tourists.
    I am proud to be a Timorese but when I go to Dili, our capital, the city of peace, it feels like going to strange city. I just hope that someone up there would read this article and do something. For your info, I am an interpreter with The UN Military Liaison Group in Oecusse.
    Thanks for writting it and putting the last picture there. What a beautiful picture. Welcome to Oecusse, ladies and gentlemen.

    Regards,

    Cris

  23. Sara Moreira says:

    Hi Ed!

    Do you know if anyone has already found a solution for the piles of plastic bottles everywhere around Dili?
    I saw this the other day: http://isanglitrongliwanag.org/about-us/
    Someone should start some kind of social business around there.

    Best regards,
    Sara

  24. Edward Rees says:

    Sara

    There is a plastic bottle recycling business next to Pertamina in Pantai Kelapa, as well as a few others.

    E

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