Access to safe, clean water for drinking and hygiene purposes is one of the key environmental issues monitored by Caritas through its State of the Environment for Oceania report, released on St Francis Day (4 October) each year. Karen Anaya, Programme Coordinator for Caritas Samoa, reports on a range of water access and quality issues in Samoa, and Caritas Samoa’s response.
Water: Hygiene and Health
A measles epidemic broke out in Samoa on October 16, 2019. Low vaccination rates led to a rapid spread that claimed at least 83 lives. The epidemic affected over 5,700 people, mainly children under the age of five. Caritas Samoa was on the ground assisting families caring for their sick loved ones at home in remote areas of rural villages in environments not apt for successful recuperation, partly due to a lack of access to water and poor hygiene practices. Caritas Samoa provided assistance to 255 families and 470 people who contracted the virus in 68 villages in two islands. Caritas Samoa also provided relief to families and patients in three hospitals in addition to the large donations of food, bedsheets, nappies, and baby wipes provided for the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Apia.
The COVID19 pandemic also highlights the importance of clean water to safeguard health. Vulnerable households urgently required access to water infrastructure. Caritas Samoa, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services and with funding from the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, created the Ready Environments Addressing COVID-19 and Hygiene project (REACH). One of the main activities of the USD$216,896 project in Samoa involves the installation of nine 100,000 litre water tanks with their own water harvesting system around the island of Upolu. These tanks will serve as hand washing stations and water collection points for hygiene activities such as cleaning and disinfecting clothes and surfaces. These water tanks will provide water to 114 households (including more than 1,000 people) in the districts of I tupa i Lalo, I tupa i Luga, Falelatai and Samatau. This project aims to alleviate the lack of access in those areas especially during the dry season. The carting of water will be arranged to replenish the tanks.
I tupa i lalo and i tupa i luga Districts
Groundwater sources between Lalomanu and Amaile are threatened by the rapid inland development in these areas. Previous water boreholes in the area were commonly contaminated with saline zone intrusion. The Samoa Water Authority planned to extend the existing piped water network to cover all remaining families without access to piped water inland of Ulutogia village but work is still underway.
Under the Water and Sanitation Sector Plan 2016-2020, the Samoan government acknowledged that there was immediate need for the installation of water tanks for families residing inland without access to water for consumption and domestic use, and to provide a suitable alternative water source for families receiving saline water. However, they often put the responsibility for rainwater harvesting systems on the village (who have no funds), NGOs, the Samoa Civil Society Support Programme, and the Ministry of Women and Social Development.
Falelatai and Samatau District
The local water supply is based at Samai, and includes three reservoirs and serves the village of Samai, Falevai, Matautu and Pata. The remainder of the District is served by the Samoa Water Authority (SWA). A 100mm galvanized pipe follows the inland side of the Falelatai Coast Road and from that pipe 25mm PVC pipes provide connection to individual houses. There are regular water supply problems in the district, particularly during dry periods. Based on Caritas Samoa consultations in the area, people inland (the poorest, isolated, and most vulnerable) are not connected to the pipe system. There are two SWA boreholes in this district; one located near Samatau and one within Samatau but they are poorly maintained and from conversations with residents of Samatau, the water is contaminated and they have no clean reliable water supply.