Samoan Houses Built to Withstand Cyclones and a Tsunami

Samoan Houses Built to Withstand Cyclones and a Tsunami

For Green Cross CEO Mara Bun, who was a judge in the World Bank Development Marketplace’s Climate Change Adaptation competition, a stand out winner was an innovative post-Tsunami initiative to put indigenous knowledge into practice through the construction of three model Samoan houses (Fale) in three coastal sites.

Mara Bun was a judge in the World Bank Development Marketplace’s Climate Change Adaptation competition in Washington DC which awarded up to $200,000 for innovative community adaptation proposals.

Innovative ideas from East Asia and the Pacific stood out this year, with 5 projects from the region being awarded funding at the 2009 Global Development Marketplace, a competitive grant program to fund innovation in development. Four of the winning projects came from the Philippines and one from the Pacific Island nation of Samoa.

The 2009 contest—‘100 Ideas to Save the Planet’— set a simple challenge: come up with one idea from your own communities to help save the planet and its people from the effects of climate change. This ninth annual Development Marketplace was co-sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the World Bank Institute.

The event, which ran from 10-13 November 2009, featured 100 finalists from 47 countries selected from over 1,700 project proposals. East Asia & Pacific fielded 19 finalists this year, with 5 securing grant funding for their projects. Nine countries from the region including The Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, and Samoa were represented.

“The Development Marketplace is an important part of our mission to break down funding barriers and promote innovative entrepreneurial ideas at the grass-roots level.” said Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Traditional Pacific know-how in building design could become one of the most effective ways for Pacific Islanders to withstand the impacts of climate change. That’s the fervent belief and mission of one of the winners of the 2009 Development Marketplace – Tafaoimalo (Loudeen) Parsons from the Samoa-based Afeafe o Vaetoefaga Pacific Academy of Cultural Restoration, Research and Development.

Loudeen, who recently witnessed first-hand the aftermath of a tsunami which hit Samoa, says traditional Samoan houses survived the wave’s impacts where western housing did not.

“Driving around in the most affected areas, what’s really noticeable rising out of the destruction are the traditional Samoan houses and buildings – still standing beside some of the western housing that was completely demolished.”

The Samoan fale (pronounced farl-eh) is round in construction and lashed and tied together with afa – an organic sennit rope. Afa is made by twisting together the fibers of dry coconut husks. The lashing work is traditionally done by elderly men while women make the thatch for the domed roof of the fale – either from coconut palm leaves or sugar cane.

In 2003, when Loudeen’s organization wanted to renovate an old surviving fale in the capital Apia for its headquarters, it was very hard to find people with knowledge about lashing, thatch-making and traditional construction. A New Zealand-based Tongan specialist in lashing was brought to Samoa to work with a number of elders who then passed the revived techniques onto their sons and daughters.

Now, fales and traditional building techniques are becoming more sought after. “These houses are important culturally and ceremonially,” says Loudeen. “They’re also better to look at and much cooler in our climate.”

With climate risks increasing in the Pacific and cyclones expected to become more intense and frequent, there is growing interest in returning to the housing of old – not least because they are less dangerous in a cyclone. “In the cyclones we’ve seen in the past few years, people have been injured or killed by falling concrete blocks that are reinforced with steel or by flying sheets of corrugated iron,” says Loudeen.

Through the Development Marketplace award, three communities across two islands will be engaged in a program to build three model houses using traditional techniques.

“They will be places where people can learn and try out the construction methods and just be involved in the process of building. It becomes a practical place of learning and gathering – young women can re-learn how to do the thatching and how to make woven blinds and young men can learn about sennit lashing. They will be like hubs of learning.”

About the Development Marketplace
The Development Marketplace is a competitive grant program that identifies and funds innovative, early-stage development projects with high potential for impact and replication. The program is co-sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the World Bank Institute.

This year’s contest gathered ideas around climate adaptation in developing countries placing special focus on indigenous communities dealing with climate risks, climate adaptation and disaster risk management, and managing climate risks in ways that provide multiple benefits—eliciting ideas to help people deal with the effects of climate change, especially those living in some of the earth’s most vulnerable ecosystems.

A rigorous assessment by 200 specialists from within and outside the World Bank Group narrowed the list of 1,700 proposals to 100 finalists who were invited to present their ideas in Washington, D.C. this week. Since 1998, the Development Marketplace has awarded more than $61 million to initiatives identified through global, regional, and country competitions.


Leave a Reply