The government of American Samoa has decided to boldly address the issue of rapid population growth, due to its potentially severe environmental impacts on the territory. Governor Togiola Tulafono’s Coral Reef Advisory Group, for which I work, has identified population pressure as the single largest threat to American Samoa’s coastal resources. This is an important finding because all of American Samoa’s population lives along the coast, and the entire territory is considered a coastal zone.
The government recently hosted a Population Summit with more than 130 key stakeholders to discuss the problems and to devise collaborative solutions. Governor Tulafono opened the summit by stating that “resources are not finite—there are limits—and in an island setting as ours, the primary threat comes from people and how they behave responsibly in their use of land, water and air.” Participants developed a Population Declaration containing numerous policy initiatives, project proposals, and a recommendation to create a Population Commission. This declaration was presented to the legislature and Governor Tulafono for their consideration. American Samoa recently held elections, and the new government will be sworn in come January, at which point the working team I coordinate will be pressing the government to implement this important call to action.
Population-health-environment (PHE) activities are still in their infancy in American Samoa. However, we do have some projects underway. The most progress so far has been with local education and outreach efforts. I am working with one of our local environmental educators to develop PHE lesson plans and activities for local schools. We will be advertising these lesson plans in the local newspaper and informing teachers that our staff are available to come to their schools to introduce these issues. In addition, we are developing a number of PHE educational resources to distribute at schools we visit.
Family planning clinic staff and environmental educators have begun collaborating on a weekly radio series on the issue of rapid population growth. These discussions are raising the awareness of listeners and encouraging them to be good stewards of their health and their environment. In addition, a team of educators is planning the first annual World Population Day event here next year.
On the policy side, we are collaborating with the various agencies, planning departments, and staff from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to develop a Territorial Population Policy. Once this is developed, American Samoa will be one of only three island states in the South Pacific with such a policy. This policy is still in the early stages of being written, but I am confident that a draft will be developed over the coming year.
Finally, American Samoa is ramping up its marine-protected-area efforts, especially the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources’ community-based fisheries management program, which is an ideal venue for integrating population and environmental efforts. One of my main focus areas over the coming year will be looking at how I can connect the ongoing Department of Health activities with these programs. Although we are still in the early stages of addressing PHE issues in American Samoa, I am hoping to use the momentum from the recent summit to get us up to speed as quickly as possible.
Alyssa Edwards, a former ECSP intern, is the population pressure local action strategy coordinator with the Coral Reef Advisory Group in American Samoa.
Photo: Samoan schoolchildren play on a truck. Courtesy of Alyssa Edwards.