Identifying vulnerable people in Timor- Leste

12 Oct 2010

Identifying vulnerable people in Timor- Leste

Dili, 11 October 2010 - "My wife and I have 6 children under the age of 9. We survive on what little I can farm from public land. We own 2 hens and 2 pigs".

Blasius Abi's life is just one example of the hand-to-mouth existence that many Timorese people experience. Blasius lives in the aldeia, or village, of Noe-Nine, in Timor-Leste's exclave district of Oecussi. He is being interviewed as part of a pilot survey, taking place in two aldeias, which aims to identifying the most vulnerable people in Timorese society.

UNDP provides technical support to the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) on their Conditional Cash Transfers programme (Bolsa Mãe). This social assistance scheme distributes money to a limited number of needy households, mostly headed by single poor mothers, in each sub-district, on condition that they send their children to school and to a health centre.

"The point of this survey is to establish how people survive through the level of vulnerability they find themselves in, how we can best support them and to what extent they are dependent on other people, or the state, to live", says Alexandre Sarmento, a national consultant to the UNDP project.

"At the moment the criteria for measuring vulnerability is very subjective. The distribution of the Conditional Cash Transfers is in the hands of village chiefs. We hope that this survey can become a blueprint for identifying beneficiaries in the future, and for establishing objectivity".

Lucia Ote has a 4 month old baby called Fatima. Her family and neighbours say that she is 8 years old. But without a birth certificate she could be anything up to 13 years old. Lucia is an example of a vulnerable person who has slipped under the radar. She lives with her parents and two siblings. Fatima's father has only been seen once in the 4 months since she was born.

Lucia and her family live in an isolated part of aldeia Noe-Nine. There are around 115 households in this area. They are completely cut off from civilization for around 6 months of the year, when the rains come and the river floods. In the dry season it takes up to three hours to walk to the nearest secondary school, health clinic and market. During the rainy season the children who are attending secondary school have to stay on the other side of the river.

Lucia's family owns no livestock and survives entirely on the local palm trees, from which they make palm wine for sale in the market. Neither of Lucia's parents is literate and they can only speak Baiqueno, one of Oecussi's local languages.

The 10 employees from the Ministry of Social Solidarity hope to interview members of around 500 households in the 6 days allocated for the pilot. The survey contains questions about the make-up of the family, livestock/crops owned, the education levels, employment, languages spoken, vaccinations received by the children and distance from health services and schools. The survey is also designed to take a holistic view of the family as a unit, rather than merely focusing on individuals within a family.

The Conditional Cash Transfers programme aims to break inter-generational poverty and socially protect vulnerable people. It hopes that families who receive investments will be given both the means and the incentives to improve their families' education levels and economic situation.

One example of a family that would benefit from receiving social assistance is that of Eliza Ote Elo. Eliza's husband died last year after a long illness. Her oldest son had to leave school early so that he could help provide for the family. She owns one chicken, one pig and one goat. Once the family is fed she has around $1 left per month. This is the only money she has for school uniforms, transport etc. In cases such as this the scheme could give Eliza's son the chance to finish secondary school.

Veronica Das Dores works at MSS and is one of the interviewers conducting this survey.

"In the last two days I have encountered many stories of people who have been forgotten by society. We have found examples of elderly people who aren't receiving the correct pension payment, children who aren't receiving enough protection, and numerous cases of chronic generational poverty. These issues cannot be solved overnight, but we can try to strengthen the Conditional Cash Transfers scheme so that the most vulnerable people in our society are the beneficiaries".

MSS and UNDP's joint assessment team will look closely at the results from this pilot to see where there is room for improvement in the distribution of Conditional Cash Transfers. It is hoped that in the future an empirical system for identifying beneficiaries can be rolled out across the country.

(For more information, please contact Clare Santry, Media and Communications Officer, UNDP Timor-Leste at; Mobile: 670 7245425)