On 20 May 2002, the small nation of Timor-Leste became the world's newest nation after more than 400 years of Portuguese colonization and 24 years of Indonesian occupation.
The militia-led violence and destruction following the referendum for Independence from Indonesia in September 1999 resulted in extensive physical destruction and the breakdown of the institutions of civil society. The country was systematically destroyed. Over two-thirds of the population was displaced, 40% of the housing stock was destroyed (approximately 68,000 houses) and civic life was disrupted as Indonesian nationals fled.
Dili, the nation's capital (population 120,000), was the hardest hit with over 50% of the capital city's buildings destroyed with extensive destruction to physical infrastructure including the country's only port, airport and major government buildings.
While much has been achieved in the past four years by both the UN and the first Government of Timor-Leste in rebuilding the city's basic infrastructure, there is a clear need to develop sustainable models for active community participation in planning for and implementing small-scale improvements to living conditions.
There is a growing realization in Timor-Leste that the local community will need to take a more active role in community development initiatives. This is particularly so given the considerable reduction in both the size and financial capacity in the government following the end of Indonesian role.
Active community participation is a big challenge in a society where community organization and participation in decision making has been extremely limited and actively discouraged under the Indonesian occupation.
The Dili City Upgrading Strategy will begin by providing the first city-wide assessment of housing conditions. Areas with acute housing problems will be mapped and analysed based on criteria such as levels of infrastructure, socio-economic status and vulnerability (e.g. insecurity of land tenure).
Three pilot project areas will be identified and these communities will formulate community action plans to improve their living conditions. Key government departments will provide support through technical assistance and adoption of these community action plans within their infrastructure planning. The project is in the early part of the start-up phase. Considerable preparatory work has been undertaken largely by building on the foundations of the National Housing Policy Paper completed by UN-HABITAT in March 2004.
UN-HABITAT continues to be a lead agency in East Timor in the promotion of urban development and housing issues. This has included such measures as advocating for increased donor involvement in the urban sector, developing regional networks and facilitating group exchanges, and assisting in the establishment of community groups around small scale business and savings initiatives.