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Samoa’s Matafa’a village adapts to climate change impacts with new water scheme

Matafa'a village's only water source was located on the coast where majority of villagers reside. Climate change impacts has turned the area into hazard zone prone to flooding.


The Matafa’a village is located in the “Le-faga-o-alii” pennisula on the island of Upolu in Samoa. It is home to 226 people where there is one pre-school and older students have to travel by canoe to go to school in other areas. There is no health clinic nor any telephone lines. Recently, the Government of Samoa built a tar-sealed road to the village, a milestone for this isolated village.

The only water source in the village was from a spring located on the coast, and whilst it was prone to flooding, the majority of the villagers resided in this area. The water source was contaminated by runoff from a nearby cattle pasture. Population growth and unsustainable land management practices (such as the use of toxic chemicals in farming and fishing activities) contributed to the deterioration of the ecosystems the village relied on. Furthermore, climate change impacts and its variability exacerbated these conditions. Increasingly variable rainfall, floods and extreme droughts have resulted in water scarcity and poor water quality. With no regular supply of clean water, the village faced health problems, diseases (such as typhoid fever), dwindling river fauna, diminished productivity of agriculture and livestock, and degradation of land and soil. The elderly, women and children were most affected as they are responsible for gathering water for their families.

Given this situation, the Matafa’a village requested the support of the UNDP-Implemented GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) to support the implementation of a project aimed at water security while simultaneously conserving the ecosystems that the communities relied on.

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Adaptation Options

The goal of the project is to strengthen the Matafa’a village’s resilience to climate change impacts and its variability through awareness-raising and capacity-building on water resource management. Using a participatory approach and building on local knowledge, the project activities included:

  1. Identification of new location and implementation of a climate-change resilient water system;
  2. Construction of main water pipe to the village and pipe connection to homes, taking into consideration potential family relocation away from the coastal zone;
  3. Development and implementation of a watershed management plan;
  4. Holding various community consultations, awareness-raising and capacity-building sessions with village and other local and national stakeholders throughout the project to ensure all needs and challenges are considered in decision-making and implementation of measures;
  5. Share lessons learned for policy influence, upscaling and replication of best practices.

Outcomes and Impacts

The project results include access to freshwater resources. Rainwater is saved in newly constructed rain watersheds or catchments and distributed through the project-installated gravity-fed water system in the mountain zone.

Environmental Impact: The gravity-fed water system installed is cost-efficient and protected from pollution from pit latrines and waste water. Located inside a steep mountain ravine and in high altitude, it is not compromised by clear cutting for cattle farms and other farming activities, nor by people frequenting the stream and small waterfalls. Tree-planting using native species prevents soil erosion along the coast and in the watershed. Most importantly, the springs emanating from the mountains feed into a small stream that has not been affected by prolonged drought periods. In September 2011, while the whole country experienced droughts and severe water shortage for three months due to El Niño, the Matafa’a village had water, attributed to the efforts of the project activities to ameliorate the environment and improve its conditions. Thus, the water system coming out of the watershed is deemed climate resilient since the river is flowing throughout the year.

Socio-Economic Impact: Today, all the houses from the village have access to clean water. Since this is a community managed water scheme, the Matafaa community members do not pay water bills to the government unlike their neighbouring villages. However, the village set up a monthly ‘user fee’ of WS$10 per household to cover maintenance costs. A penalty of WS$100 will be paid to the village council for any unreported leaking pipe/s in any community member’s house.

Acknowledging that on-going monitoring is crucial in this project, the village appointed different committees with various tasks. Since pollution of the water source will be detrimental to humans and ecosystem, various village committees have been appointed to regularly monitor and clean out debris at the intake. The Samoa Water Department also regularly monitors for fecal pollution from animals. Youth Water Committees were formed to train the youth in the installation and maintenance of the new water system. One youth member was recruited by the Government of Samoa to study plumbing in Fiji and to use and share the skills back in the community, particularly in this project. Furthermore, after the project, children have more time for school — searching for water and carrying it back to their homes over long distances is now seen as a hardship of the past.

Policy Influence: Sustainable water resource management was added in the village laws based on the best practices of this project.

Enabling Factors

In addition to the awareness-raising and capacity-building workshops that SGP held for the villagers, the linkages and synergies it provided between the village and project partners helped achieve the objectives of this project. These partnerships are a big factor in the village’s sustainability.

The Independent Water Scheme Association (IWSA) has been a project partner from the onset. They also provided thorough technical and practical training on the installation, repairs, leakage monitoring and proper water usage. Sustainable water resource management was added in village laws based on the best practices of this project.

Today, two years after the project ended, IWSA continues to work with the village. After the recent assessment by the Ministry of Health Water Quality Division, bacterial indicators were high. While this is prevalent throughout the country including the national water supply, IWSA installs water filters in 2015 to improve the water quality in the village. SGP monitoring visits held in July/August of 2014 determined that some homes located in the hills did not have enough water pressure and IWSA will provide water tanks to them.

There is a strong sense of self-sufficiency in the village and they feel confident on having water even if drought incidents intensified. They have great confidence that they could count on their partners for problems they cannot solve alone. For example, when cyclone Evan hit Samoa in 2012, the villages’ water tanks were damaged. The Samoan Red Cross and IWSA provided replacement tanks and repaired leaks.

Other project partners include the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), which provided technical advice on watershed management, the Ministry of Health (MoH), on water-related health issues, Ministry of Women Community and Social Development (MWCSD), Division of Internal Affairs and the Red Cross provided emergency relief.

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