Never in my life have I been more intimately acquainted with my gut than I am in Timor. I’ve come to understand its endearing traits such as exactly how much local food it can stand before it goes on strike. How it reacts to the latest trends in gut couture, the current trend being cyclosporiasis – a Timor wet season classic. And never in my life have I been more intimately acquainted with the working of my friends’ guts. In fact, it seems the daily topic of conversation at times is who is sick with what, and what drugs they are on to fix it.
Sadly, clean water and good sanitation continues to be inaccessible to a vast population in rural Timor. Living in the bubble of Dili, where development seems to la’o ba oin nafatin – continue going forward, one can easily forget that the rest of Timor is still very under-developed and poor.
The Government of Timor-Leste on Friday, December 9, approved the State Budget and on Monday I was casually browsing (for fun, like!) through the Budget for Municipalities. The preamble for the budget provided insight into factors such as access to a water source, and the number of private households that use sanitation facilities.
The map above shows the percentage of the population that has access to a ‘water source that is good enough to guarantee against infections, especially fecal infections’. These usually include tanks, artesian/bore water, springs, and rain water tanks.
The water sources that typically aren’t harnessed yet include rivers and lakes. Data source is the national census from 2015.
This map shows the proportion of private households that use sanitation facilities in their houses. As you can see, in come municipalities less than 40 per cent of households have toilets/bathrooms in their houses. In fact, in general less than 60 per cent of residences in Timor have sanitation facilities. The document here defines sanitation facilities as those that can separate and move toilet waste from people (mais ou menus).
So what point am I trying to make?
No point really. But with the onset of the wet season, every second person I know at the moment is suffering ‘kabun moras’ – sick stomach. Luckily most of the people I know can afford to buy the medication to combat it, but there are many in Timor who are at high risk of these illnesses, and sadly they are those who are likely least able to afford medication, or access it.
In a place where an attack of the trots can kill, it’s the simple messages like the importance of washing hands, that become the most vital.