The Success of Humanitarian Aid to American Samoa


SEATTLE — American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States, which means it upholds the fundamental rights of the U.S. Constitution. It consists of a group of islands formed by volcanic activity and is located in the southern Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.

U.S. federal grants are an integral part of the economy, although tuna canning and tourism are also important contributors. The region is often beset by natural disasters such as hurricanes, storms and earthquakes, which disrupt the economy.

In September 2009, the territory was hit by a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami, causing extensive damage to its infrastructure. Humanitarian aid to American Samoa was provided by the American Red Cross in the form of food, water, flashlights and other basic needs which were distributed from their local warehouse.

Countries like Australia and New Zealand, although they have trade relations, do not provide aid to American Samoa as it is a U.S. territory. Humanitarian aid to American Samoa is mainly provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). In September 2015, DOI earmarked $7 million to renovate the different sectors of infrastructure in the territory:

  • $1 million for the repair and maintenance of public schools.
  • $300,000 for improving the airport rescue and firefighting facility of the Department of Port Administration.
  • $2 million for the design and construction of ferry vessels.
  • $900,000 for equipment and supplies at the shipyard.
  • $500,000 for a fully equipped and operational health care center.
  • $1 million to build a two-story classroom building at Samoana High School.
  • $1 million to improve the water distribution system of the American Samoa Power Authority.
  • $1 million to rectify safety hazards at Pago Pago International Airport.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted $2.7 million in September 2016 for different environmental protection programs. These include:

  • Improving air and water quality for residents.
  • Identifying threats to coral and protecting the health of coral reefs.
  • Monitoring the safety of beaches so they are clean for swimming and fishing.
  • Developing and cleaning up sites contaminated by waste.
  • Protecting human health by implementing the Piggery Compliance Program.
  • Educating farmers on proper usage of pesticides.
  • Educating school children and communities through American Samoa’s Anti-Litter Program and the Keep American Samoa Beautiful campaign.

The 2009 tsunami destroyed the Satala power plant and its 23 MW diesel generation capacity. Louis Berger Power, along with the American Samoa Power Authority, has built a new, resilient power plant which, in addition to generating reliable and affordable energy, can withstand the effects of earthquakes, typhoons, flooding, high humidity and the corrosive salt on the island.

The goal of American Samoa is to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. The plant helps to reduce fuel costs and minimizes environmental impacts by employing low-emission generators and a separate oil-water separation system before ocean discharge. It also has a rooftop rainwater harvesting system.

The territory has promise in fish processing and tourism development and also attracts foreign investors with its minimum wage and tariff-free facility. But its remote location, limited transportation and climate pose a threat to its growth and development. Grants and subsidies received as humanitarian aid to American Samoa are not enough to remove that threat.

– Mahua Mitra

Photo: Flickr


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