APIA — In 2015, the State of Human Rights Report revealed that one in every five Samoans lives in poverty–and 20 percent of Samoans live below the poverty line. Prisoners, women, children and disabled Samoans are most vulnerable to impoverished conditions. While the Samoa poverty rate remains an ongoing concern, the country has made some achievements in reducing impoverished conditions.
Samoa originally had the status of a “least developed country,” but graduated to “developing country” status that showed positive work toward ending poverty. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is helping Samoa end hunger and poverty as well. Samoans could also see further poverty reduction from increasing community development and employment opportunities.
Although 41.3 percent of Samoans are employed, the country’s unemployment rate is only 5.1 percent. This reveals that two-thirds of Samoans are informally employed, relying on agricultural work alone for their food and livelihood. In effect, the Samoa poverty rate is highly tied to agricultural performance, and agriculture-dependent families are often deprived of stability.
Samoans often face financial hardships from religious obligations as well. Students of tertiary studies often cannot afford the program expenses and withdraw. The 2015 State of Human Rights Report adds that such cultural norms can inhibit Samoan families from escaping poverty, and that such programs must consider vulnerable Samoan families who cannot afford the expenses.
While Samoa’s poverty rate is not extremely high, “basic needs poverty” still affects one-quarter of the country’s people. Samoans struggle to maintain public services for the poor, improve education, and address noncommunicable diseases. The poorest 40 percent of Samoans heavily rely on publicly-funded education and health services that account for one-third of government expenses.
In August 2016, the U.N. and Samoa Bureau of Statistics composed a report on Samoa’s progress and problems in reducing poverty. While public employment programs served as effective safety nets and contributed to poverty reduction, most recipients of income support were existing workers mostly from Apia. In effect, many Samoans in rural areas missed income opportunities.
So’o Papa’aulila, a mother of four children, shared her experiences with Samoa’s poverty in September 2016. Her family lives in a small hut where crawling is required to get in and out. Papa’aulila struggles to earn money from selling coconut oil and food while her husband catches fish. She prioritizes her children’s education so that they can escape poverty and have better lives in the future.
However, efforts are still being made to alleviate Samoa’s poverty. From 2016 to 2018, the NGO Oxfam is undertaking a project to help Samoan farmers access new markets, provide the country’s people with training opportunities, reduce Samoan families’ dependence on remittances and other opportunities. Rural Samoan families could strengthen their economic situations if Oxfam’s project proves successful.
Tourism may help reduce Samoa’s poverty as well. A 2009 contract between Samoa and the Body Shop company to sell coconut-based beauty supplies helped boost Samoa’s tourism rate. Samoa also attracted tourists by reinventing ‘fales’ — beach huts for traveling backpackers. This contributed to Samoa no longer being classified as a “least-developed country” by 2014.
While many Samoans still struggle with poverty, these efforts and others can financially help the country’s future. Tourism, organizations such as Oxfam and education opportunities may help further reduce the Samoa poverty rate. Strategies to aid Samoa’s poor will continue being made in order to help the country’s economy and people.
– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar