Population growth, poverty and environmental sustainability in Timor-Leste

Author: Merve Hosgelen

Hosgelen, Merve, 2014 Population growth, poverty and environmental sustainability in Timor-Leste, Flinders University, School of the Environment

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Timor-Leste has one of the poorest and fastest growing populations in the world. It faces many developmental challenges, including the rapid deterioration of natural resources, for example a deforestation rate of 1.3 percent per annum. With increasing population pressure, poverty and diminishing natural resources, peace and nation building is under enormous stress in Timor-Leste. As a new nation, Timor-Leste lacks research in many areas including population, poverty and environment relations and their implications for peaceful development. The present thesis addresses three questions about Timor-Leste, namely the promises and challenges of the current and future population prospects for peace and sustainable development, the role of sustainable population and environment - particularly forests, in maintaining and strengthening people's livelihoods and reducing poverty; and the governance and policy measures that can be adopted to support sustainable livelihoods, national peace and environmental sustainability. The thesis is based on analyses of primary and secondary data. The primary data were collected during field work in Timor-Leste in 2011-12, which comprise 170 household interviews, eight village surveys, four focus group discussions, and several in-depth interviews in five districts. The secondary data were obtained from censuses and available surveys for analysing the current demographic situation of Timor-Leste and projecting its population from 2010 to 2030. At the macro level, this research showed that Timor-Leste's population will increase rapidly in the next two decades with a continuing high youth dependency ratio and it will be unlikely to have a demographic window of opportunity by 2030, precluding a timely capital accumulation and diversion of savings to productive sectors of the economy unless there is a rapid and substantial decline in fertility. In this fragile state burdened with weak institutions, population pressure, inadequate human resources and a poorly performing domestic economy would exacerbate Timor-Leste's poverty, environmental degradation and demographic risks of civil conflict in the next two decades. At the micro level, this thesis showed that multi-dimensional poverty has strong links with poor human and economic capital accumulation. Having more children in a household is not due to poverty, but rather due to geographical isolation, poor infrastructure development and heavy reliance on products from natural resources such as land and forests. Gathering forest products by the communities is a significant part of subsistence and traditional living. Ninety three percent of the households collected and used forest products in the year preceding the survey. Heavy reliance on forest products is predominantly driven by people's needs for energy, construction and income generation. This is likely to increase as the population grows and would lead to further loss of forest resources. Most forest-reliant communities have six or more children and are located in places of low infrastructure development. They have high natural capital but poor human capital. This research recommends measures to be aimed at promoting smaller families and increasing educational attainments in areas of low infrastructure development, high natural capital and large numbers of children. The thesis further recommends that policies be implemented for human resource development; provision of clean, affordable and accessible energy; strengthening of customary laws for environmental management and for investing in agro-forestry and eco-tourism to reduce deforestation and poverty, and to improve peace and sustainable livelihoods.

Keywords: Timor-Leste,Population Growth,Forest Dependence,Fragile States,Poverty Reduction,Sustainable Livelihoods
Subject: Environmental Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2014
School: School of the Environment
Supervisor: Dr Udoy Saikia