As the world’s water sources dry up due to climate change, tree planting offers a solution that can help mitigate the damage; trees absorb the greenhouse gases that are a leading cause of climate change, by taking in carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen. They also absorb water and store it in their roots, thereby increase the amount of water in the earth.

Conserving the vegetation around natural springs can support the ecosystem and improve the livelihoods of people who depend on the associated resources for survival. Consequently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of Timor-Leste recently planted 2,000 trees in We’e Lada Lake and We’e Tatarade Lake in Manatuto and Manufahi Municipality, Timor-Leste, to provide soil cover and aid water retention in the landscape.

Tree planting in We’e Tanenti (Uma-Boku, Barique, Manatuto) springs by representatives of the local police force in Barique sub-district. Image credit: UNDP Timor-Leste for ATSEA-2 Programme

The people of Timor-Leste are heavily dependent on water resources for their livelihoods, and yet both surface and groundwater are sensitive to climate change. The country is also highly susceptible to fluctuations in weather around the onset of the rainy season, which can lead to land erosion following heavy rainfall; this all amounts to a reduction in crop yields, due to a ‘perfect storm’ of weather instability, fluctuating temperatures, floods and drought.

The ATSEA-2 Programme recently conducted assessments of the vulnerability of the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region to climate change. This study found that, by 2070, annual average air temperatures for Indonesia and Timor-Leste are expected to increase by up to 3.6-3.8oC for most archipelagic islands in the ATS region, while average annual rainfall is projected to increase by up to 1.1 metres by 2070 – an increase of 20-30%. A slight decrease is projected for southern Timor-Leste.

In response to this looming climate catastrophe, the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA ATSEA-2 Programme teamed up with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and local communities in Manufahi and Manatuto Municipality, where they planted 2,000 trees of jambu mente, bora, sukun jawa and teak wood. The activity was conducted on 18-19 November 2021 in We’e Lada Lake and We’e Tatarade Lake, where 140 volunteers comprised students from a senior high school in Posto Administrativo Fatuberliu and Barique, along with the local community from the villages of Clacuc, Uma Boku and Aubeon.  Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture of Posto Administrativo Fatuberliu and Barique, the Director of MAP Manufahi and the Chief of the Department of Fisheries were also present, in order to convey the importance of conserving and sustainably managing the water resources. During the activity, announcement boards and fences were placed around the lakes as a reminder of this significance.

Manuel Sarmento, village head of Clacuc (Manatuto), added that they are also cooperating with UNDP through the ATSEA-2 Programme to protect and develop the We’e Lada and We’e Tatarade lakes as tourism sites, because these lakes have huge potential to be developed as natural attractions. The village head of Uma Boku (Manatuto), Feliciano Baptista, also confirmed that the We’e Tanenti spring water has great potential for agricultural activities, as many local residents have been using this spring for farming. As documented in the ATS transboundary diagnostic analysis (TDA) completed in 2012, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities in the ATS are especially vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, to conserve ecosystems and support communities amid the increasing impacts of climate change, the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA ATSEA-2 Programme integrates nature-based mitigation activities and community-level knowledge sharing into coastal management.

ATSEA-2 is the second phase of the Arafura & Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) Programme; a regional partnership involving the governments of Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea, with support from the Australian government. Since its inception in 2019, the Programme has been working to improve the quality of life of people in the ATS region through a combination of restoration, conservation and sustainable management of marine-coastal ecosystems. ATSEA-2 is committed to safeguarding the livelihoods and prosperity of coastal people, particularly in its transboundary areas, through the implementation of sustainable integrated concepts.

(Bernardo De Jesus Pereira Belo)