COVID-19 respects no boundaries
In Timor-Leste, UNICEF interventions are helping to keep borders safe
Timor-Leste has managed to remain free of community transmission of COVID-19.
At the land border, a UNICEF construction project aims to keep it that way
Batugade, Bobonaro Municipality: Like most previously bustling travel hubs, the land border that Timor-Leste shares with Indonesia in Batugade, Bobonaro Municipality, is now a deserted and oddly quiet place. Besides the one time every 17 days that the border is opened for two hours to allow travelers to pass through, the Batugade crossing area is otherwise only occupied by a few truck drivers and whoever may be in the on-site quarantine facility at the time.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant border closures, the Batugade land border had an average of 800 people crossing into Timor-Leste each day. At present, only around 200 people cross every 17 days, while essential goods can pass through twice a week. Borders have been closed or restricted almost continuously since end March 2020 when the first of several State of Emergency proclamations were issued. Limited and pre-planned border openings and quarantine processes of those entering Timor-Leste have resulted in there being no community transmission of COVID-19 in the country.
To help improve infection prevention and control at the border crossing and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, two toilet blocks with one unit designed to be accessible by people with disabilities, plus five female units, three male units, six urinals and seven hand washing stations are currently under construction in Batugade. There are also five handwashing stations with a total of 18 individual taps on site so that travelers can practice one of the most critical COVID-19 prevention methods – handwashing with soap and clean, running water.
The designs for the various facilities were developed using gender, disability and child-friendly lenses. All the toilet facilities have separate stalls for men, women and people with disabilities, and the handwashing facilities are child-friendly, with low basins and easily reachable faucets.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly brought with it numerous challenges, it has also provided an opportunity to reimagine a better future for all children and their families. Keeping Timor-Leste’s borders well-equipped and secure is one way to do that.
“The need for clean running water and sanitation and hygiene services has never received more emphasis than now. We hope that with the construction of this permanent WASH infrastructure, every child, family member and staff at these border points will have access to proper handwashing and other facilities - their first defense against not only COVID-19 but other diseases, such as diarrhoea,” says Valérie Taton, UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative.
As workers at the Batugade construction site take a short break to escape the searing midday sun, Jonas Soares, the UNICEF WASH engineer overseeing the project, says he believes the impact these improvements will have on the health of Timor-Leste’s people will be considerable. “Ultimately, these improvements will benefit the health of people long after the pandemic has come to an end,” he says. “That’s good news for us all.”
The construction of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities by UNICEF is part its COVID-19 response.
The construction of the WASH facilities at border points is being funded by the Government of Japan. UNICEF’s work with the Disability Association of Timor-Leste to design and implement these facilities is funded by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
UNICEF is supporting WASH infrastructure at four border areas across three municipalities, including at the Batugade crossing in Bobonaro Municipality. The support is being implemented in three phases: immediate, interim and permanent.
• 50 portable handwashing buckets fitted with taps and accompanied by a one-month supply of liquid soap.
• Seven water storage towers installed.
• Two kilometers of water distribution lines laid.
• Six new water pumps installed.
• Renovation of 101 existing toilets, 91 existing bathrooms and 84 existing handwashing points.
• Construction of three toilet blocks (including two for people with disabilities, nine female stalls, five male stalls and 12 urinals) plus 16 handwashing stations comprising 52 water outlets across the four border sites in Ainaro, Bobonaro and Covalima municipalities for use by transiting travelers.