Samoa Tsunami: Relief is only the first step on the road to building back better

Just over a week after tsunami waves scoured the southern coast of Samoa, killing one per cent of the population and seriously affecting one out of every six people, the relief effort is still urgent. International agency Oxfam is stressing that recovery is not just about immediate relief – it is about longer-term development.

There are survivors who do not yet have clean drinking water and the threat of disease still hangs over the islands. Women and children are particularly at risk. Oxfam yesterday air freighted two large water bladders to Samoa and continues to access isolated family groups who have taken refuge in the hills, delivering emergency drinking water, sleeping bags and food.

Yesterday Oxfam was allocated $110,000 (NZD$150,000) from the New Zealand government’s Humanitarian Action Fund to support its Samoan recovery work over the next six months. Combined with public donations, ongoing fundraising and offers of support from Canada and Germany, the agency is planning for up to a $730,000 project.

"It’s wonderful to hear how generous the public has been. I hope donations continue to come in, because helping these people rebuild their lives will take a big effort. When this disaster fades from the media spotlight, the hard work really begins,” said Oxfam aid worker Janna Hamilton speaking from Apia.

Tinned fish, bottled water and mats are necessary to get survivors through the immediate aftermath, but a successful recovery requires a long-term commitment. Oxfam has a 12-24 month rehabilitation plan and is working with local communities and groups.

Throughout the response, Oxfam will support our local partner organization, Women in Business Development (WIBDI), in helping people to regain their livelihoods. Seeds have already been planted and seedlings will be distributed to WIBDI’s network of organic farmers, along with tools, to replace crops lost in the tsunami and rebuild successful markets delivering organic banana, taro and coconut oil.

In the next six months, Oxfam will also work with the Samoan Water Authority and Department of Health to secure sanitation and safe water supplies for the communities of Saleapaga, Siumu and Manono Island.

“People here are still in shock. To top it off, yesterday’s earthquake near Vanuatu triggered another tsunami warning across the Pacific,“ said Hamilton. “We should do everything we can for the families I saw today running for higher ground, to help them become more resilient to future disasters. This is a chance to build back better.”

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