Current Forecast: Samoa and a Changing Climate
From cyclones to rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns inflict extensive damage on Samoa—a trend only projected to continue.
• The country, in brief. Samoa comprises two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu, and a cluster of smaller islands spread across the Polynesian region of the southern Pacific Ocean. The country captures a land area of 2,931 square kilometres and a coastline of 403 kilometres. 70 percent of Samoa’s 193 thousand-person population lives across the nation’s low-lying coastal areas.
• In Samoa, everything is increasing. Rainfall has increased since the 1890s, a pattern predicted to continue and intensify. Since 1993, sea levels have risen by about 4 millimetres (0.16 inches) per year, a faster rate than the global average. By 2030, the island’s surrounding sea level will increase by up to 17 centimetres (6.69 inches), elevating the risk and impact of storm surges and coastal flooding. Samoa faces persistent dry spells that coincide with El Niño periods. Altogether, these shifting weather patterns increase the country’s vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including dengue, typhoid and diarrhoea.
• Cyclones will be less frequent but more intense. Between 1969 and 2009, Samoa recorded 26 tropical cyclones. At times, the country has experienced three cyclones in the space of one season. The severe flash flooding accompanying these storms wipes out infrastructure and homes, crops and lives.
• Ocean acidification—or carbon pollution that increases the ocean’s acidity—will continue across Samoa, endangering the nation’s coral and reef ecosystems.
• Despite the ecological setbacks, Samoa is moving forward, partnering with regional and international organisations to launch rapid response and adaptation measures. As Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi reminds: “There is hope…but for our islands to realise this hope we need solutions to our challenges, and the means to implement them.”
•For the full country profile, visit the Samoa’s page on the Pacific Climate Change Portal.
Disaster-Resilience: Climate Proofing the Island’s Future
On Dec. 13, 2012, Samoans awoke to the wrath of Cyclone Evan. Some Samoans prepared for the impending storm the day prior—but many began only that morning, a Radio Australia reporter noted at the time.
Evan unleashed torrents of rain that swamped the nation, destroying power lines and wiping out vegetation, crops and trees. The cyclone demolished some 600 homes, displaced 7,500 people and killed 14 residents—causing damages upwards of $210.6 million, roughly 30 per cent of the country’s GDP.
The storm was the first of the 2012-2013 cyclone season, and one of many lethal surges make landfall in Samoa. Cyclone Ofa in 1990 killed seven people; in 1991, Cyclone Val took the lives of 16 Samoans.
But in the period since, the nation has taken active steps to equip the country’s population to brace for the challenges that climate change is bringing. Grants from the United Nations, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have enabled Samoa to undertake several cyclone response projects; today, 65 Cyclone Evan-impacted homes qualify as cyclone-proofed shelter, designed to withstand the intensity of cyclonic winds, earthquakes and surface floods.
Elsewhere, Samoa’s Integrated Flood Management to Enhance Climate Resilience program focuses on upgrading infrastructure to safeguard the more than 26.5 thousand residents living along the country’s Vaisigano River. The project aims to develop flood mitigation systems by upgrading drainage processes along the country’s coastal communities, most of which flow through Samoa’s main urban economic areas. The economic value of the project will reach $15.6 million and yield an annual return of 15.5 per cent.
Reducing Vulnerability: A Small Nation with a Big Agenda
From infrastructure to food security, investing across all segments of society can move the nation’s needle in climate proofing its future.
Developing and integrating climate-adaptation solutions requires capital; with assistance from a spectrum of regional and international organizations, from the Least Developed Countries Fund to the Africa Caribbean Pacific-European Union Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program, Samoa has progressively sourced the financing needed to build out disaster-risk management practices.
Samoa’s National Policy on Combating Climate Change and National Action Plan—established under the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change—outlines the country’s efforts to strengthen its capability in responding to climate change. Under this programme, Samoa has committed to broadening understanding of climate change, while streamlining how government agencies disseminate awareness and educational information. The country has further focused on reducing its greenhouse gas emission and implementing regulatory frameworks to coordinate concerted response to weather-related disasters.
The headquarters of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, a regional entity focused on uncovering sustainable climate-preparedness measures, is based in Samoa.
Samoa is one of 43 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. The nation ratified the Paris Climate Agreement in April 2016.