Timor-Leste is resource-rich but remains poorly developed. It ranks 120th out of 169 countries in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2010 Human Development Index. The World Bank’s 2008 Timor-Leste poverty survey showed that the population living below the national official poverty line of US$0.88 per capita per day grew from 36 percent in 2001 to 50 percent in 2007, with increases in both rural and urban areas.
Timor-Leste’s main economic sector is subsistence rain-fed agriculture, on which 80 percent of the country’s poor and 90 percent of the rural poor depend for their livelihood. Traditional staple foods are maize and cassava, but rice is replacing these as the preferred food. Major imported food items include rice, oil and noodles. The main risk of food shortages occurs during the October to March lean season, when food stocks run short and the new harvest is not yet available. Owing to inadequate road infrastructure, underdeveloped marketing systems, a lack of agricultural inputs and irrigation facilities, and considerable post-harvest losses, local food production is insufficient to meet national requirements. The 2007 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/WFP crop and food security assessment mission estimated that Timor-Leste needed to import roughly half of its cereal-equivalent consumption requirements. Floods, strong winds, drought and pest infestations occur yearly, resulting in loss of food production, which aggravates food insecurity and vulnerability.
Under-nutrition remains a major public health problem. Poor maternal and child health and nutrition results from many factors, including food taboos and dietary practices that lead to low consumption of nutritious food; unavailability of fortified nutritious foods; inadequate knowledge of good child feeding practices such as timely initiation of breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods; high incidence of acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea; poor access to and uptake of health services; inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices; geographical isolation; and lack of adequate infrastructure.
The country has, however, made tremendous efforts in development and improved its ranking in the Human Development Index from 162nd (Least Developed Country) in 2009 to 120th (Medium Developed Country) in 2010. Since its independence in 2002, Timor-Leste’s social and economic policies have focused on alleviating poverty to address the immediate needs of the people, consolidating security and stability, and providing a foundation for nationhood through building institutions. This ongoing process of peace building and state building has been necessary to create a base from which the country can address people’s health and education needs and work towards the elimination of extreme poverty. In the last three years, Timor-Leste has experienced double-digit economic growth and a general improvement in people’s welfare.
Timor-Leste’s Strategic Development Plan forms an integrated package and a road-map of strategic policies to achieve the country’s vision of a sustainable and inclusive development which aligns with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).