Tuesday, August 30, 2011

“The best laid plans of mice and men….

Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns To a mouse, 1785). Or in other words, sometimes you need to re-visit your original plans and come up with plan B, C, or D. Luckily we have many women on the team as well as men (and no mice) so when things go “agley” the outcome is not as definite as Burns would suggest.

After a highly successful fortnight in Samoa we had some news which resulted in a re-shuffle of our village consultation schedule. More on this later; first a recap of the consultation in Mutiatele, Malaela and Poutasi villages. We spent three days in each village; the programme of consultation has been explained by Michele in a previous post. In Poutasi, as in Mutiatele and Malaela we again got to showcase our dancing skills. Luckily for the villagers we had more to offer than amateur dance steps, the draft evacuation zone maps, signs, and information boards were very well received. The level of interest in tsunami science, as well evacuation planning, was again very high.

We had tweaked the facilitation process a little, based on Vaitoa’s expertise in the community consultation process. For Poutasi we took a more structured approach to discussion of the signs and information board drafts, with resources discussed in the order they would be encountered from the coast (you are in a tsunami evacuation zone)to furthest inland (you have reached the safe location). All the facilitators have been doing a fantastic job, but there are always ways you can improve delivery of your information and make understanding and knowledge sharing easier, so we were very happy with the amendments Vaitoa made following the visit to Mutiatele and Malaela.

The importance of consulting with a range of villages has been highlighted already, not only are the villages we have worked with so far topographically different, there is also quite a different feeling in terms of gravitas, the degree of emotional recovery, the number of high chiefs (more in Poutasi) and the resources in the villages, Mutiatele and Malaela have a some small stores, two churches and a primary school, Poutasi has a hospital, high school, preschool, police station, two churches, large village hall, and some small stores. The discussion in Mutiatele and Malaela felt somewhat more light-hearted, there was recognition that tsunami planning is a serious business and of prime importance to the village people; they were very grateful for the work we and the Samoan government are doing. In Poutasi the feeling was more subdued; the same recognition of the importance of planning was present, but there was a more serious feel to the proceedings. Our impression was that the emotions that arise when discussing tsunami, were closer to the surface in Poutasi. It is humbling to be in the villages and feel at the same time the grief for those lost and the joy of village life. Again we were catered for magnificently, and I discovered that my passion for Koko Samoa (locally grown cocoa with no bitterness and a rich, strong flavour) was undiminished.

Joe Annandale, a local resort owner and high chief in Poutasi has been thinking a lot about tsunami evacuation planning since 2009. He was a great help during our visit, in terms of organising the walkthrough/drive-through of evacuation routes (very well attended), and ensuring tsunami planning remains high on the village agenda. A big thank you is due to Joe for all of his support of the project and the team. Again we included a school visit in our trip, this was very well-received and the level of understanding of tsunami science among the high school students was very impressive. We left Poutasi with a great set of maps for evacuation routes and sign placement and some regret to be heading back to the big smoke of Apia.

Unfortunately while we were in Poutasi we did get the news that we had a cancellation from Faleu village, the next consultation location. A short-notice change to the dates of the nationwide Teuila festival now created clashes with our consultation dates. This festival is the big annual event of Samoa, and village life is focused on training for long boat races and festival planning.

Time for plan B. We considered that the visit to Satupaitea (the last village on the schedule) was also at risk so we made the call to return to NZ for two weeks and come back to Samoa after the festival was over, and meet with our last two pilot villages then. This plan was agreed to by all parties.

So we missed the snow and came back to a relatively warm New Zealand. I am now just getting the final preparations together for our next two consultations. Brenda Rosser will be travelling with me on her first visit to Samoa and we are both very excited to be going to Faleu Village on tiny Manono Island (famous in Samoa for its wildlife) and then directly to Satupaitea in Savai’i.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fa'a Samoa

The GNS team are at Lalomanu over the weekend and enjoying a small break after our first village consultation of the project at Mutiatele and Malaela on the south-east coast. For Graham and Kim it was their first experience of Samoan village consultation and Samoan village ceremony and protocol (the Samoan way= fa’a Samoa). The villagers were very welcoming and pleased to see us all. The consultation kicked off with a welcome and an ava ceremony with the matai, followed by a huge morning tea (so much food!) and then an overview of the project for everyone given by Vaitoa Toelupe from the Disaster Management Office (DMO). This outlined the reasons for the project, and agreed the expectations from the 3 day visit for both the DMO and the village. More food followed (lunch this time) which included traditional Samoan delicacies like taro leaves in coconut cream (Graham’s favourite), Samoan chicken, marinated octopus, fish, taro, breadfruit, Samoan coca (hot cocoa) and fresh coconut juice. I can see keeping the weight down on this visit will be a problem!

After lunch, the real work started with the villagers breaking into three groups (matai (chiefs), women and male youth to discuss the signs – the language on them and where they should be located, and the evacuation zone maps. We three split up at this point, Kim going with the women, Graham the youth and myself (Michele) with the matai. Our role was to support the Samoan facilitators who we’d given a training session to earlier in the week, mainly to be there to answer any questions and to give the facilitators confidence if they needed it. One of the satisfying parts of the project already has been seeing how the facilitators from a variety of agencies have already picked up the project and run with it – they were enthusiastic and very well prepared for their role, giving us confidence that after the pilot the DMO has enough capacity to help continue the programme in other villages.

Day 2 saw the groups breaking up again (after morning tea and a prayer) to complete their discussion before all returning to the main fale to give presentations to everyone on what they came up with. There was a lot of laughter with every group finishing off with a song and a dance. The groups had identified slightly different issues but there was quite a lot of agreement. The main recommendations included having two zones instead of three (red and orange), some changes to the words on the signs, including adding some english to the information boards and maybe the addition of a lava lava to the figure on the signs to give them a Samoan flavour! The groups had each drafted up evacuation routes, with the location of directional signs and assembly areas marked. Everyone then walked the evacuation routes checking sign locations and ‘safe’ assembly areas. We also took the opportunity to talk to the school children, who all came together in a special session to hear about the project and what the rest of the village had been up to. Several of the youth expressed an interest in learning more about the technical details and tsunami science and a special session was also set up for them. Visuals worked the best here, with good old fashioned flip charts and hand-drawn diagrams being the order of the day.

On the last day after an ava ceremony and morning tea Vaitoa presented a summary of the village recommendations and final map for agreement. This was followed by a farewell which included more dancing (by us this time!!) and an exchange of gifts. Graham (aka “John Key” as nicknamed by the high chief) excelled in his dancing and was ‘claimed’ by several of the older village women which created a lot of laughter. Neither Kim nor I were quick enough! It was a great privilege to be involved in the village in this way. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when to speak out or what’s appropriate but the warmth of the welcome and the support gave us the confidence to speak up. While we had orators to speak on our behalf the high chief mentioned to me that my efforts to speak as the palagi matai were very much appreciated and was something that occurred only rarely by visiting palagi. Farewell Mutiatele, Malaelu and the island of Namua (where we stayed). When we next visit in November for the simulation it’ll be like visiting old friends.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Winter in Samoa

Is nothing like winter in Wellington! The team are back in Samoa for the village consultation stage of this year-long project. To recap: Funded by NZ Aid Programme, GNS Science and the Samoa Disaster Management Office (DMO) have partnered to produce tsunami evacuation zone maps for all of Samoa, and pilot the creation of community maps in four villages. The project (as far as GNS is involved) will conclude with an evacuation drill later this year. The roll-out of community maps for the rest of Samoa will be undertaken using in-country expertise in mapping and community consultation at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa, and other, associated ministries. It feels a little odd to be here without Nora, but she is now at home with baby Giles and we are continuing her great work in establishing the project.

Stages of the project completed so far include the Inception Visit (the subject of previous blogs), near and distant tsunami source modelling for Samoa, data acquisition to assist modelling, and inundation and evacuation zone mapping. Much of the technical work was undertaken at GNS Science in New Zealand. We now have draft evacuation zone maps for Samoa similar to those used by Wellington and Northland communities in NZ. These need local input to be relevant and meaningful.

Community consultation will include discussion with village populations and then more detailed consultation in three groups: men, women and youth. The purpose of the consultation is to allow locals to draw their own evacuation routes on maps and identify the best location for safe evacuation destination and signage. We also discuss how the tsunami maps align with previous hazard maps developed for villages, how they integrate with existing disaster management arrangements including official warnings, and very importantly the indicators and actions applicable to natural warnings (strong or prolonged shaking, unusual ocean behaviour or sounds etc).

So we have a busy month ahead, we spend three days in each village with small breaks in between to write up notes and re-charge our batteries. All the consultations will be in Samoan, and we travel as part of a team of trained facilitators from Samoan government agencies lead by Vaitoa Toelupe of the DMO. The GNS members are there to provide technical support to facilitators as villagers discuss and customise the maps and undertake village walk-throughs of evacuation routes and safe locations. Most editing will be in the form of drawing on routes, safe locations and important landmarks such as churches and schools.

As part of the team Michele, Graham and I will travel to Mutiatele and Malaela on the southern part of the east coast of Upolu, then to the village of Poutasi in the middle of Upolu’s south coast. Graham and Michele will then head back to New Zealand and I will be joined by Brenda Rosser from the GNS business development team but also a GIS mapping aficionado, with a keen interest in working with our partners in the Pacific. Brenda and I will join teams heading to Faleu on Manono Island (the small, inhabited island between Upolu and Savai’i. The final village consultation is in Satupaitea district on Savai’i and strictly speaking covers four villages. All of the pilot areas were severely impacted by the 2009 tsunami, and have a long history of community hazard infrastructure planning with the DMO.

So it’s a warm, busy and exciting month ahead for me. I know I’ll get a bit homesick for my family and cold, windy Wellington but the welcome, the weather and excitement of being involved in such a valuable and locally supported project will really help (not to mention the odd cold Vailima at the end of the day).