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Development assistance in Timor-Leste

Flag of Timor-Leste

Australia's development partnership with Timor-Leste

2022-23 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$77.3 million
2022-23 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$114.0 million
2021-22 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$73.0 million
2021-22 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$105.2 million
2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget actual]
$139.5 million

Australia has been at the forefront of international support for Timor-Leste since independence in 2002 and remains Timor-Leste’s largest development and security partner. We have a strong interest in Timor-Leste’s future prosperity, and we continue to review and adapt our assistance to support Timor-Leste’s response to its economic and development challenges.

Since independence, Timor-Leste has made considerable progress in establishing state institutions, transitioning out of conflict, and improving key development indicators such as maternal and child mortality. It is rated as Southeast Asia’s most democratic country. However, significant development challenges remain.

Most of Timor-Leste’s population lives in rural areas. Timor-Leste’s topography, climate vulnerability, and poor infrastructure compound challenges in agricultural production, access to basic services and employment opportunities. Human development is severely constrained by a high rate of stunting for children under the age of five – the third worst in the world.

Limitations in education quality and access to basic health services compound these impacts and mean that Timor-Leste’s young population is not yet reaching its full potential.

Major barriers to women’s and girls’ empowerment have become more pronounced under COVID-19. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by disruptions to services and have fewer opportunities to reach their potential.

The Timor-Leste Government’s response to COVID-19 was effective in preventing the spread of the pandemic in 2020. In 2021, Timor-Leste faced two significant outbreaks and a further smaller Omicron outbreak in early 2022. The Government’s effective vaccination roll-out, achieved in close cooperation with Australian and other partners, was a significant success.

COVID-19 has nevertheless undermined development progress and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities. Reductions in income constrained households’ ability to meet basic needs and access sufficient nutritious food; school closures weakened children’s learning outcomes; and lockdowns increased the risk of violence against women and children (VAWC).

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, Australia upgraded Timor-Leste’s three COVID-19 isolation facilities and provided equipment and expertise to establish in-country testing. We pivoted existing programs – in social protection, food security, and VAWC services and prevention – to channel resources to support Timor-Leste’s response and ensure the most vulnerable people are not left behind.

Australia’s COVID-19 Response Packages have provided support to the Pacific and Timor-Leste to deliver critical, temporary, economic support to address pandemic impacts. Funding from these packages has helped Timor-Leste protect the most vulnerable people and support village development and local economic recovery.

Australia is also working with the Timor-Leste Government to deliver long-term human development outcomes, grow and diversify the economy, and support the resilience of institutions and communities.

Health security in Timor-Leste

Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response. As we pivoted our development assistance to respond to COVID-19, we maintained support for the broader health system and the delivery of essential services. Strong health systems deliver life-saving care and form the critical foundation for health security. Our support for health security will continue to prioritise gender equality and disability inclusion.

Our support for Timor-Leste’s health care system is complemented by efforts in other sectors to help tackle the problem of malnutrition. We also support improvements in access to water and sanitation, hygiene promotion and food production.

For more information on programs, visit the Health security in Timor-Leste page.

Stability in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste, as a young nation, is working to strengthen the institutions that underpin stability and security. We are working with Timor-Leste to expand programs that deliver opportunities and services to people, especially in rural areas.

We partner with the Timor-Leste Government on investments that help to enhance people’s trust in their government. We are building on our long-running partnerships with the Timor-Leste National Police to foster more effective and gender-responsive security institutions.

Australia is working with Timor-Leste to strengthen and expand social protection programs that support households and communities, targeting pregnant women and support to young children, and including people with disabilities.

To promote food security, we are supporting farmers to grow and market their products and respond to pest and disease threats, so that supplies of nutritious food are not interrupted.

We continue to support essential services to respond to violence against women and children (VAWC). We also support communities and the government to take action to prevent VAWC. We support local advocates and maintain our own advocacy so that the voices of women and girls are amplified and considered in policies and programs.

For more information on programs, visit the Stability in Timor-Leste page.

Economic recovery in Timor-Leste

Australia is supporting a more resilient and diversified economy and helping to enhance connectivity in Timor-Leste. We are supporting Timor-Leste’s national systems for public financial management and regulatory reforms for better governance. This is helping Timor-Leste to support its people in COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

Australia is investing in quality infrastructure and connectivity as part of Timor-Leste’s economic recovery. We are partnering with the Timor-Leste Government to support labour-intensive rural road works and village-level infrastructure grants, helping to connect people in rural areas to services and economic opportunities. We are increasing investment in Timor-Leste’s national economic infrastructure through transformational projects, including a fibre optic submarine cable between Australia and Timor-Leste and the redevelopment of Dili’s international airport.

We are investing in education through improving teaching quality and school learning, and strengthening technical and vocational education institutions. Our Australia Awards scholarships and short courses are helping to build a pipeline of highly qualified and respected professionals and leaders. Across our programs, we are targeting increased skills development and employment opportunities for women and people with a disability. With borders reopened, we are supporting pathways to labour mobility, especially for women.

Our support for the private sector, especially in tourism, coffee and other agricultural products, works to improve Timor-Leste’s long-term prospects for trade and economic growth.

For more information on programs, visit the Economic recovery in Timor-Leste page.

Our results

Key recent achievements that Australian development assistance has delivered in Timor-Leste include:

  • comprehensive support for the roll out of vaccines, including the provision of over one million vaccines as of July 2022 enabling Timor-Leste to fully vaccinate 75 per cent of its population
  • support to establish laboratory capacity for the diagnosis of infectious diseases in all 13 municipalities that has helped to inform a public health response that limited the impact of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste, and more broadly is strengthening Timor-Leste’s capacity to respond to infectious diseases
  • support for the Government’s response to a dengue outbreak in 2022, providing supplies to health facilities, diagnostic equipment, reagents for laboratories and chemicals used for fogging operations that reduce mosquito populations
  • working with the national medical store (SAMES) to support the rollout of a medical supply stock management system, including the training of health managers, pharmacists and doctors, to ensure a reliable supply of essential medical supplies and prevent wastage
  • support for the Government’s development and rollout of a new social protection program ‘Bolsa da Mae – New Generation’ which provides monthly cash payments to pregnant women and children under three years old, as well as a top up payment for children with a disability
  • working with Timor-Leste’s National Police (PNTL) to reform their use-of-force policy and training to ensure their use-of-force actions follow a contemporary human rights compliant model aligned with best practice
  • improving food security in rural areas through support for communities to adopt improved seed storage technology which allows for longer quality seed storage, and protects seeds from pests and disease
  • support for local coffee companies to establish three new coffee wet mills and the provision of training to farmers on improved picking and processing techniques, which has increased both the amount and value of premium green bean coffee exports as well as providing new jobs
  • technical support for the Timor-Leste Government to progress its accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). WTO membership will significantly improve Timor-Leste’s business enabling environment and open up new trade opportunities.

How we work

As Timor-Leste’s largest development partner, we are leading by example, providing predictable funding and working with other development partners so that our joint efforts align with Timor-Leste’s Foreign Aid Policy and Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030.

Consistent with Timor-Leste’s Foreign Aid Policy and our own risk management policies, we are progressively increasing our use of Timor-Leste’s government systems. In 2020 and 2021, we provided a total of $27 million in direct budget support – complemented by technical assistance – to contribute to community infrastructure grants as part of the COVID-19 recovery and the roll-out of the program ‘Bolsa da Mae – New Generation’ program, which provides monthly payments to pregnant women and children under three years old. During her visit to Timor-Leste on 31 August and 1 September, Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced the provision of a further $20 million in budget support in 2022-23.

We are working with Timor-Leste to maximise the quality and accountability of its spending, so that Timor-Leste’s natural resources result in better services and opportunities for all.

Australian Government agencies are working together in a coordinated whole-of-government approach to make the most of the full suite of ODA and non-ODA investments in Timor-Leste’s development and recovery. We are working to increase the benefit Timor-Leste receives from Australia’s regional and global initiatives, including NGO and volunteer programs which work directly with rural communities, and international partnerships.

The Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste regularly posts updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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