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Timor-Leste: El Niño Impact - UN Resident Coordinator’s Office Situation Report No. 1, As of 18 March 2016

UN RC/HC Timor-Leste
Publication date

This report is prepared by the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste in collaboration with humanitarian partners. It covers the period from 1 October 2015 to 18 March 2016.


  • The 2015/2016 El Niño has peaked with a return to neutral conditions expected during the second quarter of 2016. The after-effects on people and their livelihood are critical.

  • In some areas, it has rained up to 68 per cent less between October 2015 and January 2016, compared to last year. Livelihoods in the eastern and northern parts are severely affected, with large numbers of livestock dying in Lautém and Baucau sub-districts.

  • According to the preliminary results of a livelihood resilience analysis, about 400,000 people are estimated to be severely or highly affected. Coastal areas are worst affected, with delayed or stressed crop planting, reduced water access and lack of food.

  • The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment (MCIE) has procured 9, 000 tons of rice to respond to increasing market prices due to food shortage. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) is coordinating plans for drilling water pumps in Suai municipality, as well as the construction of five additional warehouses (location is to be determined).

  • The Minister of Interior coordinates the in-country response and facilitates exchange of information. On 23 February, the Minister last updated the Council of Ministers (CoM) on the impacts caused by the climatic phenomenon, and the measures which are being developed.

  • The Minister of Interior and Minister of Social Solidarity have recently discussed the current situation with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and Development Partners (DPs) on 26 February.

Situation Overview

El Niño has now begun to weaken to moderate levels. It is likely that the El Niño will break down during thend quarter of 2016 which is typical of the cycle. The dry season (May to October) is expected to come early although this depends on whether this El Niño is followed by La Niña. Neutral conditions are only slightly more likely than a La Niña event. (Seeds of Life (SoL) report 29 Feb)

The overall delayed and reduced rainfall during this rainy season (November to April) has severe implications on water, food and nutrition security, as well as livelihoods and agricultural production. In midFebruary, the estimated number of severely or highly affected people was 400,000. (CLEAR Assessment, preliminary results in mid-February).

While rainfall has increased across the mountains of Timor-Leste since January, coastal areas are still experiencing lower than average rainfall. Furthermore, rainfall is not steady and reliable; in February, precipitation in most areas was beyond average in the 1 st Dekad, with lower than average precipitation in nearly all areas in the 2nd Dekad (FAO satellite monitoring, 2 nd Dekad Feb)

The lack of sustained rainfall has severely impacted sustainable water sources of local communities.
Women and children are particularly vulnerable as they have to travel increased distances to access water. Nearly 50% of the HPA Assessment respondents said they are accessing water from open, unprotected sources. In some places, for example Ainaro, water sources are drying up and people have to collect water at the river. (HPA Assessment, preliminary results in mid-February)

According to data from FAO, most crop land areas in Timor-Leste have very poor vegetation condition due to a sustained stress caused by drought (VHI between 0.35 and 0.45). Rice field preparation is delayed across the country, and in February the general planting progress status on rice was between 40% and 50%. (FAO satellite monitoring, 2nd Dekad Feb) An early end to the rainy season could worsen the situation since farmers that plant now might not get enough rain for a good crop. (SoL report 29 Feb)

Timor-Leste has a population of 1.1 million, with 70% living in rural areas (Census 2015 preliminary results). While the rural population usually uses coping mechanisms to respond to livelihood impacts, preliminary assessment results showed that this year they had to activate these much earlier than in a normal year. This includes eating less, changing primary water sources, selling assets and/or borrowing money. The use of these coping strategies is not sustainable in the longer run and may lead to further health and nutrition problems as well as accelerated depletion of livelihoods. (CLEAR and HPA Assessments, preliminary results in midFebruary)