Villages in Samoa Improve Sanitation to Stay Healthy

Project Result / Case Study | 27 January 2017

Families in Samoa are cleaning up their neighborhoods, adopting better sanitation practices, and living healthier lives.

Upolu, Samoa – Fuarosa Heather, a young mother from a small village on Upolu, one of Samoa’s main islands, says her two children used to miss school a lot because they were sick.

“The daily activities of my kids were often disrupted and I was not even aware that its cause was just within our backyard,” she said.

It was an old, sub-standard septic tank that was contaminating her family’s drinking water and making her kids sick. The same problem affects families in many other Samoan villages. As a result, Samoa in recent years has had one of the highest rates of water-borne diseases, such as typhoid, in the Pacific.

“I am happy that my kids are now healthier”

Fuarosa Heather

The situation has improved in some areas since the launch of the Community Sanitation Project in 2014.

The government, in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, is using the project to teach people about the importance of proper sanitation and support the building and maintenance of sanitation systems in Samoan villages.

New information prompts new thinking

The project targets low-income households with poor sanitation systems in three coastal areas of Upolu island. Due to low levels of health awareness, the project had some challenges gaining traction.

“At first, we were reluctant to adapt to the new system,” said Valaauina Malo, the head of Eva, one of the participating villages. “But we found the consultations very informative. We learned how our behavior was contaminating our water sources as well as the coast where we get some of our food supply.”

Where there is demand, the project provides subsidized sanitation equipment to low-income households. This comprises a plastic tank system that can hold up to 3,200 liters of water. Local people provide the labor, as well as basic construction materials such as sand and rocks. Villagers are also taught how to maintain their new septic tanks once they are installed.

Better sanitation, better health

Nearly 800 households had benefited from new septic systems by mid-2016 and the accompanying public awareness campaign is expected to reach around 15,000 people by early 2017.

Toleafoa Fetoloai Alama, a project official, says raising awareness of the benefits of better sanitation is key to the sustainability of the project.

“Our team can only help communities within the project timeframe,” she said. “With the public awareness campaign, we aim to teach villagers to take responsibility in maintaining their facilities and ensure that the natural resources within their community are also protected.”  

In some villages, household septic tanks were draining directly into nearby streams or onto beaches, damaging marine life in coastal and mangrove areas. In many villages where poor sanitation was damaging natural resources, the project has led to wider environmental improvements.

Wastewater treatment has improved due to the new septic tanks and village education, and so has the water quality in participating villages. Heather says her family is now more conscious of good sanitation practices.

“I learned a lot from the consultations, particularly about the connection between what we do within our backyard and the environment,” she said. “I am happy that my kids are now healthier.”

Weng Espiritu-Borromeo is a Communications Assistant (Digital) in ADB’s Department of External Relations. Learn more about ADB’s work in Samoa and across the Pacific Islands.