* The Samoan version was published in the Iniini Samoa Newspaper, here is the English version :)
After the 2009 Tsunami I was involved in the rebuilding efforts through assisting Habitat for Humanity. Through my role I became aware that the victims were given a choice of either receiving $18,000 in financial assistance or to have a house built for them through Habitat for Humanity and funded by Digicel, Caritas and the Government of Samoa. I thought this was a great initiative.
I am saddened when I hear that the same gesture was not given to the many victims of Cyclone Evan. Yes it is understood that there are stipulations placed upon funds received by others in response to this disaster. Usually these stipulations include what sectors they would like the money to be used for. For example AusAID donated money to go towards the rebuilding of schools; others may have donated and asked for it to be used towards restoring water or electricity. I do not believe that part of these stipulations included making money from the victims who have already lost so much by having them apply for loans and repay extra money on top of the loan repayment.
The Disaster Management Office has completed their assessments of those who are in need. Would it not make sense to give the money that has been housed with Samoa Housing Corporation to those people rather than have them take out a loan that only puts them at a further disadvantage? When you think about it 4 million tala is a massive amount of money. Working in the water sector I know that 4 million tala is equivalent to upgrading more than 10 water schemes so I can see that it would be of great benefit to the victims of the cyclone who have lost so much.
According to the 2011 census Samoa has 187,820 persons. Not all of Samoa was greatly affected by the cyclone so it is not necessary to give the aid to everyone. The Government of Samoa Press Secretariat released a table on January 16 stating the Villages and Families supplied by NEOC during Cyclone Evan. This table identified that 2385 families received assistance from NEOC. If we divided the 4 million tala among these people each family would receive 1677 tala. Yes this is not a huge amount of money, but not as much aid was given for the cyclone so we cannot expect the same relief as was given during the tsunami. However, I feel that the precedence was set with the tsunami and so the same should be done with the cyclone. I do not see how making victims of Cyclone Evan struggle even more by repaying a loan funded by relief aid is consistent with why disaster relief was given.
It is understandable that not as much aid has come in after the cyclone, this is beyond our control. But Samoa was not totally devastated and we are still able to do so much with what we have. If we as a country commit ourselves to back our local businesses by purchasing locally made food and produce and other goods and services that keep our money here in Samoa we will be helping each other to get back on our feet.
Government could offer tax deductions on any money that is donated to local charities giving people more incentive to give.
My son’s favourite saying, particularly when I am eating chocolate is ‘sharing is caring’. We all have our own burdens and not everyone knows another person’s circumstances but if we all make an effort to share whatever we may have be it a chainsaw to help remove trees so that land can be used for planting, or our time in helping to remove such debris from land we as a country will recover so much faster and so much stronger.