Official name: East Timor
Area: 14,609 square kilometers (5,641 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Tatamailau (2,964 meters/9,724 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres : Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 9 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 265 kilometers (165 miles) from east to west; 92 kilometers (57 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries : 172 kilometers (107 miles), all with Indonesia
Coastline: 620 kilometers (385 miles)
Territorial sea limits: Not established
The new nation of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that had been controlled by Indonesia, became officially independent on May 20, 2002. East Timor consists of the eastern half of Timor Island, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, plus the enclave of Oecussi (30 square miles/78 square kilometers) on the north coast of the Indonesian half of the island (West Timor).
The Banda Sea is to the north, the Timor Sea to the south. Many aspects of the new country, such as its territorial waters, had yet to be determined as of mid-2002.
East Timor has no territories or dependencies.
East Timor has an equatorial climate with two basic seasons: the hot northwest monsoon of November through May, and the cooler southeast monsoon of April through December. The average annual temperature is 21°C (70°F), with a range of 18°C to 32°C (64°F to 90°F) and humidity averaging 73 percent. On average, from 120 to 150 centimeters (47 to 59 inches) of rain falls on East Timor each year. Precipitation varies greatly according to coast location and terrain. Due to its proximity to Australia, the south receives more rain than the north.
The country is primarily mountainous, with many short streams, an elevated interior, and narrow coastal plains and wetlands. Dili, the capital, is located on a bay situated on the north coast.
East Timor is enclosed on the south by the rough waters of the Timor Sea (part of the Indian Ocean) and on the north by the calmer Banda Sea of the Pacific Ocean. The enclave of Oecussi is on the Savu Sea of the Pacific Ocean.
Although East Timor has extensive coral reefs, they have sustained damage from dynamite fishing.
The deep Wetar Strait separates East Timor from Indonesia's Wetar Island to the north. Australia is about 500 kilometers (311 miles) to the south across the Timor Gap.
Atauro Island lies 141 square kilometers (54 square miles) north of Dili. Jaco Island (11 square kilometers/4 square miles), off the easternmost point of East Timor, is a Protected Wild Area.
East Timor's coastline has little indentation, with steep slopes along the north coast, and river outlets meeting the sea. The easternmost point is Tutuala Beach, which is a Protected Wild Area, as is Christo Rei Beach. The wet-lands of East Timor are mostly marshes in estuaries along the south coast and small man-grove swamps.
The largest lake in East Timor is Lake Iralalaro, in the far east of the island. With an area of 19 square kilometers (8 square miles), the lake is surrounded by much of the country's remaining rainforest, which constitutes a Protected Wild Area. Smaller lakes include Be Malae, Maubara, and Tibar.
East Timor has twenty-five rivers or streams, all of which originate in the central mountains. They experience strong torrential flow during rainy periods, but their water levels drop severely in the dry months. Significant rivers include the Lois (80 kilometers/50 miles), which is the country's longest, as well as the Laklo, Karau Ulun, and Tafara, all in the south. The Tono River runs through Oecussi. There are hot springs along the Marobo River, in the north border region, and waterfalls occur throughout the country.
An area between Venilale and Los Palos in the far east of the island has been desertified severely; it is now known as "dead earth," where very little will grow.
East Timor has extensive grasslands on its coastal plains and hillsides.
The Ramalau, the central mountain range of East Timor, is characterized by deep valleys and looming cliffs. Tatamailau (2,964 meters/ 9,724 feet) is the highest peak in the country. Six other summits rise above 2,000 meters (6,566 feet): Sabiria, Usululi, Harupai, Cablake, Laklo, and Matebian.
River gorges and deep streambeds cut through the center of the country.
In the east, Fuiloro, a plateau with elevations of 500 to 700 meters (1,640 to 2,297 feet), is the remnant of a fossil atoll. Nari, Lospalos, and Rere are other eastern plateaus. Baucau and Laga are coral-rock plateaus along the north coast, and the Maliana Plateau rises along the West Timor border.
East Timor is a poor country with an undeveloped infrastructure and no outstanding man-made features. Even before the damage caused by the violent fighting that preceded statehood, only about one-fifth of all households had electricity, and paved roads reached only half of all villages.
Cardoso, Luis. Crossing: A Story of East Timor. London: Granta, 2002.
Periplus Adventure Guides. East of Bali: From Lombok to Timor. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2001.
Tanter, Richard, Mark Selden, and Stephen R. Shalom, eds. Bitter Flowers: East Timor, Indonesia and the World Community. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
Nunes, Mario N. The Natural Resources of East Timor. http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/01jannaturalresources.html (accessed June 13, 2003).
University of Coimbra. Timor Net. http://www.uc.pt/timor (accessed June 13, 2003).