TIMOR-LESTE: Road repairs a boon to villages
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DILI, 22 November 2010 (IRIN) - Timor-Leste's government is engaging rural communities to improve the country's road network, which is almost 60 percent unpaved, to create jobs and develop vital infrastructure. The TIM-Works Project, being implemented by the Secretariat of State for Vocational Training and Employment, with technical assistance from the International Labour Organization (ILO), is to improve 300km of rural roads, and provide routine maintenance on another 1,800km of roads. This will improve a sizeable chunk of the country's 6,000km road network and generate more than 1.2 million days of work for 26,000 beneficiaries, the ILO estimates. "The work on this road will make a big difference," Felismeno dos Santos, chief of Fahilebo village, where an estimated 1,500 people will be served by the development of the Labaloa-Fahilebo road, told IRIN. Three-quarters of Timor-Leste's 1.1 million citizens live in rural areas and engage in subsistence farming. As one of the poorest countries in Asia (ranked 120 out of 179 countries in the 2010 UN Human Development Index [ http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/ ]) and with an unemployment rate of about 25 percent, there is a growing need to inject income into rural communities. "The company came here and brought the work to us. I need to do this work so that I can support my family and my children. Here we normally farm for a living," said mother-of-eight Teodora de Sousa, 44, who is part of a group working on 2km of the Bucumera-Fahilebo road in Leorema village, Liquica District. The road (6.4km in total) serves about 1,600 people and the government has split the work between three local contractors, who in turn have recruited villagers. These roads will not only generate much-needed income but also reconnect villages with markets and health centres. "People in the village have many local products, like fruits and vegetables, so when we finish the road, they can use their cars to go the market [3km away] or access the local health centre," said Dos Santos. Fewer than a quarter of births in the district of Liquica (where both these villages are located) are attended by a health professional, and only 13 percent in a health facility, according to the government's latest demographic and health survey. Better roads mean better access to medical facilities. Fragile peace With 30 percent women and 50 percent youth participating in the project, the other hope is that the investment will help keep a fragile peace at what is a critical period for the half-island nation. Timor-Leste achieved formal independence from Indonesia in 2002, but spats of violence have dogged the young nation as recently as 2006 [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=84318 ], when high unemployment [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=85299 ] and widespread discontent [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=84659 ] contributed to fighting in capital Dili that forced 150,000 people to flee their homes. "Timor-Leste is entering a crucial period, one which will help determine whether it has overcome in a sustainable manner the political and institutional weaknesses which contributed to the events of 2006," said UN Secretary-General for Timor-Leste Ameerah Haq at the UN Security Council in New York on 19 October. The TIM-Works Project, which has a budget of US$10 million, began in October 2008 and will run until June next year. mc/cm/ds/mw© IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis: http://www.IRINnews.org