Lopau Mapuinuumanaia remembers the day his village in southeastern Samoa was torn apart. On 29 September 2009, the 59-year-old farmer was up early planting banana and taro seedlings when he felt the earth shake violently. His instinct was to run but he decided to stay and wait for instructions from village leaders.
Waiting outside his coastal home, he anxiously watched as the waves grew. Then he heard what he describes as the sound of a bomb exploding. A huge wave smashed against the reef about 100 meters offshore and sped toward him. He was nearly swept away, but survived. Many of his family members were less fortunate.
“The black wave swept away everything,” he recalls. “My village was drowned in deep, dirty sea water. The roofs of houses were caught in coconut trees or floating down the street. There were bodies everywhere.”
The tsunami reached up to 400 meters inland and damaged or destroyed villages, schools, roads, and tourist facilities along Samoa’s southwest, southern, and southeastern coastline. More than 140 people were killed and damage was estimated at $106 million—about a fifth of the country’s annual gross domestic product.
Many of the hardest-hit villages were poor before the disaster struck. In the midst of the devastation, Samoa was also suffering the effects of another crisis. After nearly a decade of strong economic growth, the country’s economy was severely affected by the 2008 global financial crisis.
By 2009, Samoa was recovering from a recession where hundreds of businesses closed and thousands of jobs were lost. The amount of money sent home by Samoans working outside the country—a lifeline for many of the country’s poorest people—dropped precipitously.
Time for a Partnership
Samoa and ADB worked together to devise a plan to address both crises through the $26.8 million Samoa Economic Recovery Support Program. The loan helped the country’s leaders improve the government’s financial management systems and restructure areas that made it vulnerable to internal and external shocks.
The program also supported the country’s economy through the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by the tsunami, direct assistance to victims, housing provision, and other basic services delivered to the public.
“The ADB-supported Samoa Economic Recovery Support Program came at a time when Samoa was beginning to recover from the effects of the global financial crisis and at the same time we had the tsunami, so the economy was obviously under great strain,” says Samoa’s Minister of Finance and ADB Governor Sili Epa Tuiot.
As part of the program, the governments of Australia and New Zealand helped hard-hit families pay primary school fees. In the months after the tsunami, children were afraid to come to school because they feared the tsunami would return. This was taking place at the same time that many parents were having trouble coming up with the money needed to pay for school fees.
“After the scheme was introduced in 2010, there was a spike in school attendance,” recalls Malaea Lauano, the principal of Leififi College in Apia. “Suddenly, more kids started coming to school because their parents no longer had to pay fees.” More than 50,000 students have benefited from the Samoa School Fee Grant system since the program was launched in 2010.
The assistance program was created to address the crises at the time, but proved so successful that it was adopted as a long-term policy by the government and still exists today.
“ADB’s timely intervention, together with the assistance of other development partners, helped us get back to normality as soon as possible.”
“Before the school fee relief scheme, we did not have any computers for the almost 900 students from years 9 to 11 here at Leififi College,” Malaea says. “After we received the government support, we were able to set up three computer labs, install electric bells, and invest in a public announcement system which has boosted internal communications.
ADB, working with Samoa’s other development partners, has helped the country bounce back in the last decade, according to Samoa’s Minister of Finance and ADB Governor Sili Epa Tuiot. “ADB’s timely intervention, together with the assistance of other development partners, helped us get back to normality as soon as possible,” he says.
“Because of the support we received from partners we are in a much better position now. The economy has performed relatively well. We have rehabilitated most of the infrastructure that was destroyed by the tsunami.”
To address the crises facing the country, Samoa and ADB decided to use a policy-based lending program. This type of financing instrument combines financial assistance in coordination with structural reforms to the economy. It allows countries to address an immediate crisis while at the same time making changes that will avoid similar problems in the future.
For Lopau Mapuinuumanaia, the 59-year-old farmer who was nearly swept away, life has improved. The program financed the improvement of the roads and enabled him to build a new house inland. “We feel safe living away from the sea,” he says.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY SUPPORT PROGRAM (SUBPROGRAM 1)
Learn more about ADB’s work in Samoa.
This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.