Thomas Ora, Dili – Timor-Leste's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment has launched a joint effort to tackle coastal abrasion by restoring about twelve hectares of mangroves which were damaged by El-Nino or cut down for firewood.
Dozens of government officials, environmental activists and church representatives were present at a recent planting of mangroves in Hera village, part of Dili district, one of the country's largest mangrove areas.
Joao Carlos Soares, director-general for the environment department at the ministry, said that the government was aware of the urgent need to look after the country's coast.
"If we do not conserve now, Timor-Leste's mangroves will disappear and our coastal areas will face a natural disaster," he told ucanews.com.
He said that in 2017 Timor-Leste will receive US$7.8 million from international environmental groups channeled through the United Nations Development Program for the rehabilitation of mangroves, mostly on the country's northern coast.
However, Divine Word Father Kornelis Key, an environmental activist and parish priest of St. Tiago Church in Hera, not far from the restoration site, said that the government must focus on sustainable mangrove restoration, rather than just wasting money on temporary projects.
"The government must spend money on sustainability and maintenance," he said, adding that there were instances where government officials and non-governmental groups planted mangroves but never monitored their growth.
Nevertheless, he supported the program because it is in line with the church's mission, particularly Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si – a call to care for the environment – published in May 2015.
"What we want is that they monitor what they have planted, not just abandon them," said Father Key, adding that he has also told people to stop cutting mangroves.
Antonio Marcos da Silva, the Hera village chief, said that there should be a synchronized effort between the government and the people. "People are not aware that cutting mangroves will destroy the ecosystem," he said.
Elidio Ximenes, chairman of Flora and Fauna Conservation, said that the group has prepared 12,000 mangrove seedlings that will be planted on Timor-Leste's coasts, including near Hera village. "We are also studying the possibility of using mangrove fruit as food or medicine," he said.
About 1,200 mangroves have been planted in Hera and other areas will follow.
Agus Dwi Jatmoko, director of Pertamina International Timor, a subsidiary of Indonesia's oil and gas company, Pertamina, who participated in the mangrove restoration, said that the company has planted 1,500 mangrove trees in Hera.
"The mangrove has an extraordinary function because it becomes the center of a new ecosystem and helps populations of small fish," he said.