Covid-19 pandemic worsened vulnerability and difficulties that already existed in East Timor
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified many of East Timor’s vulnerabilities, with worsening employment, income, food security and corporate difficulties, according to an analysis carried out by the United Nations.
More than half of households have no income, with the number of vulnerable households quadrupling and more than 80% of businesses reporting losses.
Presented today in Dili, the study shows that even before the pandemic the country was struggling with several difficulties, such as the lack of basic infrastructure, climate risks or limited access to services.
Situation amplified by the pandemic, with particular impact on small farmers, the most remote populations (both rural and urban) and small and medium-sized companies.
“Inequalities have deepened, specifically with regard to unpaid work, with the burden to be borne by women. Poor and vulnerable families are among the worst hit by the covid-19 crisis, ”says the study.
The Socioeconomic Impact Assessment (AISE) was conducted by the United Nations system to understand the scale of impacts on vulnerable groups, poor families, and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
Among other factors, the assessment took into account changes in livelihoods, employment, food security, health care, education and other basic services, including social protection and gender equality.
The data were collected in the municipalities of Baucau, Bobonaro, Dili and Viqueque and in the Oecusse-Ambeno Special Administration Region (RAEOA), with door-to-door surveys in 13 sucos and face-to-face interviews with 419 households – with 2,834 members.
Almost 100 MSMEs were also heard in 15 sectors of activity, development partners and community leaders.
The study, which involved experts from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations International Emergency Fund for Children (UNICEF) and UN Women, shows a “Drastic reduction” in household income for most polls, with 59% of those who had some form of income saying they lost it.
The number of families without any form of income increased “to a considerable extent”, to 56.6%, with 55% of the rest reporting falls in income.
“The number of vulnerable families without income has quadrupled from 46 to 185 among the families surveyed,” says the study.
The analysis shows that one in four houses had at least one person who had been unemployed due to the covid-19 pandemic, “showing the vulnerability of families where, when a member loses his salary, the house is left without any Yield”.
“Many households, especially with limited financial resources, are unable to cope with these losses,” explains the study.
The number of people earning self-employment income fell by 85%, with 50% of all employees reporting changes in their workplaces.
In 17% of cases, economic activity has come to a complete stop, either due to state of emergency restrictions or travel restrictions.
The study notes that structural employment problems particularly affect young people, with only 12.3% between 15 and 29 working the week before the interview.
Among the difficulties, they mentioned access to the market, but also the climatic impact – floods, drought and heavy rains – with 86% of families involved in agricultural production reporting negative impacts.
Crop loss, animal death, especially due to African swine fever, rains and atmospheric conditions were further aggravated by the pandemic shocks.
The study also shows an increase, especially among women, in housework, including childcare, which affected the ability to earn an income.
Particularly serious was food insecurity, whose levels in Timor-Leste are already high – 70% of rice consumption needs, for example, depend on imports – a situation that has worsened with the pandemic.
About 80% of households reported food security problems, with “37.6% of households affected by moderate or severe food insecurity”.
These are families in which there has been a loss of income and who reported having to reduce the quality of their diet, already weak in some cases, due to lack of money or resources.
“More families in the lowest 20% of wealth ‘had to miss a meal’ (21.4% against 7.9%) and ‘were left without food’ (42.8% against 22.3%) in contrast to the more rich, ”he notes.
To deal with the lack of food, the most common strategy was to reduce essential non-food expenditure (61.7% of families) in transport, health, education, sanitation and basic services.
The study notes that there were “high levels of social cohesion” to respond to the difficulties, with about half of the families reporting having received some form of support and 27% having helped other families with money, food or other material.
However, the richest fifth “received more support in terms of money, food and emotional assistance, in contrast to the poorest fifth”.
In MSMEs, most reported negative impacts, especially in the first two months of the state of emergency, with 81% reporting loss of income and difficulties in paying wages. Women were more dismissed (representing 61% of dismissals) than men.
There were also impacts in terms of supply networks and a drop in demand that reached 65% outside Dili and 18% in the capital.
Timor-Leste currently has an active case of covid-19 and is in its sixth 30-day state of emergency.