Population grows as food dwindles

Dili (AsiaNews) – The government census puts East Timor's population at just under 925,000 (50.5 per cent male, 49.5 per cent female). Although the figure does not differentiate between East Timorese from foreign residents, it does represent a 17.4 per cent increase over 2001.

In the capital Dili the population rose by 19 per cent, 30.2 per cent if the whole district of Dili is considered. Border districts also saw their population rise in great part due to immigration from West Timor. Many refugees are still leaving it for settlement in East Timor.

Fertility rates now stand at 8.3 per cent. Two would-be mothers in three are under 25. However, pregnancy remains dangerous for both mother and child. Some 8 per cent of all women die in childbirth complications whilst in 2002 child mortality stood at 8 per cent, 11 per cent for those under five.

According to the government census population growth and the world's highest birth rate are threatening the country's food supply. Nutritional levels for most East Timorese fall short of minimal standards and could force people to rely on international food aid from the United Nations.

The country must also cope with other urgent problems such as the growing number of people infected with the AIDS virus, a problem made worse by widespread prostitution.

After years of warfare between the occupying power and the local population East Timor became independent in 1999. On August 30 of that year, 78.5 per cent of voters cast their ballot in a referendum to decide the territory's status. Turnout was 99 per cent.

Although there are no official figures, the death toll from 25 years of war has been estimated at between 60 and 100,000 people. Starvation, disease, armed clashes and massacres were the main causes.

Catholics represent over 90 per cent of the population.

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