Posted by: rlearmonth | November 16, 2008

Misery in Paradise

Surrounded as it is with an abundant sea, and endowed with spectacular beauty, it is all too easy to forget that Timor-Leste is the poorest country in Asia. A recent report by the UN’s Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) is enough to grab the attention of even the most oblivious. With one of the highest fertility rates in the world, Timor-Leste also has some of the world;s most dismal survival rates for both mothers and their children. The under-five mortality rate is 130 per 1,000 live births; maternal mortality is estimated at somewhere between 660 and 880 deaths per 100,000 live births. An estimate from 2003 shows the average Timorese woman has 7.8 children in her reproductive life. Extrapolating from these data means that the risk of death for the mother during pregnancy is 1 in 16. Ninety percent of all deliveries are at home, and less than 20% of all births are attended by a skilled health professional.

The litany of misfortune goes on and on, much of it driven by poverty and ignorance – a bit over half of women and just over 40% of men are illiterate. Dependency rates are very high, with only about 36.6% of the population making up the labor force.

Statistics only punctuate the story. The real story can be read in the faces of men and women older than their years, and the skinny little bodies of kids with not enought to eat. Paradise? Not for many.


  1. As I read this, Bob, I thought of the terror and despair of the couples who lose baby after baby. It must add to a sense of hopelessness and/or fatalism. Neither helps build a community of growth and hope. How do we help? What should the new administration do? Can we, through engagement with the UN make a difference?

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