A Resilient Samoan FamilyNov 3, 2014
Sitiseni Afua Fuga, a 31-year-old woman seriously affected by Cyclone Evan two years ago, now has a cyclone-resistant dwelling in the Samoan village of Siumu. Cyclone season is approaching once more, but this time Sitseni is confident; her new house has been specifically designed and engineered to withstand cyclonic winds, earthquakes and periodic surface flooding. It has also been built along the lines of the traditional Samoan Faleo’o concept, with construction based around a series of sturdy posts and poles well-suited to withstanding Pacific climate hazards.
“When Cyclone Evan struck, I was seven months pregnant,” said Sitiseni, recounting her gruelling experience during the huge tropical storm. “My thatch was blown away by the devastating cyclonic winds, leaving my family without shelter. We led a miserable life for nearly two years, living on the roadside before moving to a [temporary] thatched dwelling we built with wood and rope. We had only a tiny space to sleep, and the mental and physical growth of our kids was sharply constrained by a lack of space.”
But while she still remembers the ordeal of Cyclone Evan, Sitiseni today draws great reassurance from the resilient architectural design of her newly built home – constructed as part of a Government of Samoa and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative. “Our new house is stronger in terms of its foundations, stands up to strong winds and tolerates natural movements,” she said.
The Cyclone killed at least five people and like Sitiseni 4763 Samoans were displaced as a consequence of Cyclone Evan that hit the country on December 13 2012. There were major repercussions for household subsistence with the destruction of crops, fruit trees, agricultural assets, livestock and fishing gear. A Government of Samoa Needs Assessment Report estimated the cost of damages and losses at some US$204 million - very significant given the small size of the Samoan economy.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Evan, UNDP supported the Government in introducing the Human Recovery Needs Assessment (HRNA) methodology, designed to explore the human impact of natural disasters in Samoa. UNDP looked in particular at people like Sitiseni, in the most vulnerable situations and with the greatest need. Families with young children or senior citizens and persons with disabilities, as well as low income households, were amongst those most affected.
After responding to the immediate needs of those affected and participating in the implementation HRNA, UNDP was requested by the Government of Samoa to assist in tackling housing needs for vulnerable families. The Cyclone Evan Shelter Reconstruction Project initiative focused on the reconstruction of destroyed dwellings with a “build back better” ethos. With the assistance of implementing partner the Adventist Development and Relief Agency Samoa (ADRA), the project was able to educate beneficiaries and their surrounding community in the principles of disaster resilient design through active involvement in the construction process.
Sitseni’s family, like many others helped by the project, is happy to have a permanent home as a foundation for their life. They no longer have to do the costly, six-monthly regular renovation work that was necessary in their previous dwelling, saving some US$300 which they can instead invest in their children’s education.
“Our house attracts people’s attention; we receive compliments from our neighbours and, more surprisingly, foreign tourists often visit our house,” said Sitseni’s 36-year-old spouse Manuela Afua Fuga.
“We are very thankful to the Government of Samoa, ADRA and UNDP to help us become more resilient to major natural events,” said Sitseni.
UNDP has lasting partnerships with the Governments of Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau alongside other development partners, providing them with technical, normative and analytical expertise; funds; and organizational and coordination support to assist in efforts to meet their development aspirations. UNDP manages regional and national projects/ programmes in the areas of democratic governance, sustainable livelihood/poverty reduction, crisis prevention and recovery, environment and energy, gender mainstreaming and more.