The Timorese government, together with the World Food Program (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued an urgent food security alert on Tuesday, according to reports.
Widespread droughts in Timor-Leste represent a risk of food shortages, as the island nation depends on rain-fed crops raised in the December-May wet season. However, the likelihood of an El Niño-induced prolonged dry season, and forecasts of low rainfall until early 2024, loom large.
Immediate and long-term actions outlined in the alert include urgent need for operational readiness to acquire rice at scale to increase the national grain reserve, safe storage and prepositioning of food, as well as water distribution and agricultural improvements to support farmers.
The 2015-16 El Niño-driven drought impacted more than a third of households, with 3 in 10 people experiencing food shortages during the roughly two-year period. This cycle comes at a time when food insecurity already affects around 300,000 people – 22 percent of Timor-Leste’s population.
Alba Cecilia Garzon Olivares of the WFP cautioned that the anticipated effects of El Niño “could plunge the population even further into the extremes of hunger.”
Twelve of Timor-Leste’s 14 municipalities are already showing clear signs of drought, with Oecusse, Viqueque and Liquica currently assessed at the highest risk level.