The ADRA/PACAM Project—Community Disaster Management and Livelihood

The ADRA mandate is to alleviate suffering and reduce poverty. Throughout the world, this continues to be the focus for ADRA with its main motto being —“Changing the World, One Life at a Time”. In our little spot on the world map, we cannot effect any significant change in the world. We are simply not big enough. We can, however, “Make a difference, one life at a time”. The Development’ and the ‘Relief ’ in our name are the essences around which we align our community development and adaptation work.

Recognising the traditional mindset and adapting our projects to encompass these beliefs while also steering communities and traditions to grasp this unfortunate new reality of unpredictability is ADRA’s vision. Our approach needs to bridge traditional values, religion, and current realities and answer the question on how to prepare our families and communities to be resilient given the changes that lay ahead.

The project holds its roots in the Samoan earthquake and tsunami experience of 2009. The tsunami highlighted the incapacity and lack of preparedness of local communities to cope with such events. Villages were isolated and cut-off for extended periods of time with little access to basic needs. Equipping such communities with the skills not only to prepare for a natural disaster but also to manage the long-term effects of these disasters is vital, if not life-saving.

In recent years, ADRA Samoa has implemented projects that have focussed on sustainable economic development, with emphasis on developing good nutrition, to help reduce the non-communicable diseases rife in Samoa. In our experiences, we have found success is most likely when we focus on strengthening the core economic status of the community. Once we have momentum for socio-economic development, we can focus on other activities like planning and disaster preparation and planning.

ADRA’s project, therefore, follows two core and parallel approaches. Firstly, it seeks to develop disaster risk management and preparedness activities among village communities. Secondly, it aims to increase and diversify livelihoods through improving the financial marketing literacy of low-income households.

ADRA was careful in identifying those villages which had not previously had any adaptation project. Following the 2009 tsunami, extensive rehabilitation and adaptive programs have already been conducted in many of these coastal villages. It was still difficult to prioritise which communities to focus efforts given the majority of village communities are located in coastal areas.

The success of previous projects indicated that the support of traditional village councils implementing adaptation projects was pivotal to the success of any community-based project. The Council plays a vital role in ensuring the security of catchment areas by having members of families responsible for their catchment areas. The project activities are supported by the Council of Matai (Chiefs), and women’s and youth groups in each of the ADRA villages. Embraced by a culture founded on love and respect, the authority of the Council of Chiefs is well recognised and adhered to.

Building on this experience, ADRA chose to work only in villages which still followed the traditional hierarchy (Chief) system, who are in a stronger position to implement their Community Action Plans. After a rapid appraisal of suitable sites, the project was able to identify six villages on the island of Savaii, which had not previously benefitted from any climate adaptation program. These are namely the villages of Sagone, Siufaga, Vailoa Palauli, Falelima, Satufia, and Samata. The populations of these communities range between 289 to almost 800 individuals with the smallest village consisting of only forty (40) households. ADRA believes success will only be achieved with a two forked approach to its work, developing communities to be prepared (community plans) while at the same time enhancing socio-economic community resilience, both are shared below.

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