Why the Leaus are staying put
Tolovae Leau has no intention to relocate to higher grounds even if it means jeopardizing the safety of his family and his children.
Leau and his family barely survived Cyclone Evans floods five years ago.
And learning from that life threatening experience, the fire and rescue officer with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (F.E.S.A.) has rebuilt his totaled home elevating it by ten feet.
So when Cyclone Gita invaded Samoa last week, Leau’s brand new brick house withstood the first test.
And it has reaffirmed his conviction that despite living in a vulnerable area prone to the mercy of climate change he will stay tight.
“I will take full responsibility,” he says. “This is our home. It’s where we were born and raised by our parents and their parents.”
He acknowledges the government’s concerns for their safety as illustrated by the new Vaisigano River wall under construction to minimize flooding in his neighborhood behind the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in Apia.
“Government is not to be blamed because it’s a natural disaster and we were all aware of the consequences having stayed put to await what Gita would bring.”
“Before Gita arrived early Saturday morning, our area was already underwater twice with many of the elderly and young children evacuated to stay with relatives in land and on higher grounds,” the rescue officer continued.
“To say there was no warning is ridiculous.”
“We stayed behind on our own freewill knowing the consequences. I am thankful to the Father Almighty that no one was killed.”
And he holds the highest of respect for government noting the new wall for Vaisigano River under construction as a climate resilient initiative to minimize flooding in the area.
“The Prime Minister is commended. Despite under fire from his unappreciated critics, Tuilaepa is not fazed from securing funding and assistance for people like us.”
On that note, he calls on the Prime Minister if government would consider the possibility of providing lands on higher grounds for family in low lying areas to relocate to.
“A similar arrangement that government approved for Sogi residents is ideal,” he said.
The Leau’s like many of the residents in low lying areas are fully aware of the risks involved in defying the government pleas to relocate to higher grounds because of their cultural tie to their place of birth and heritage from the ancestors.
But it’s not stopping the Prime Minister from reiterating his call for residents to at least heed the weather advisories at times of bad weather to move to higher grounds.
Tuilaepa is also on the front line calling on the international community for disaster resilience through scaled-up storm recovery efforts, as well as durable partnerships that would help countries like Samoa strengthen capacities to deal with such extreme weather events.
“The word ‘vulnerable’ goes hand-in-hand with the words ‘small island,’” said the Prime Minister. “When we asked our residents ‘why can’t people go to higher ground?’ ‘why can’t people just move somewhere else?’, the reality is that they simply cannot.”