American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States, and administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It consists principally of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls, for a total area of 76 square miles. It is located approximately 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. The population of the territory is approximately 65,000, of which about 97 percent live on the island of Tutuila, which is the largest of the islands. Tutuila is also home to the territory’s historic capital, Pago Pago, and the seat of the legislature, judiciary and the office of the Governor. The per capita income of American Samoa is only US$8000, by far the lowest in the United States.
American Samoa has a tropical climate moderated by southeast trade winds. There is minimal variation in seasonal temperature. There is a rainy season from November to April and a dry season from May to October. Typhoons are common from December to March and it is predicted that these will increase as a result of climate change. Climate change, specifically sea-level rise, directly impacts American Samoa by increasing flooding or drought conditions. There are limited natural freshwater resources in American Samoa and these may be adversely affected by a rise in the level of saltwater penetration under the island caused by sea level rise.
The Samoa archipelago, which includes the Independent State of Samoa, lies within a region that is annually threatened by hurricanes. Although American Samoa is not regularly affected by hurricanes, five powerful hurricanes have struck the Territory’s islands in the last 40 years (1966, 1979, 1987, 1990 and 1991). Each have passed over at least one of American Samoa’s islands.
As a result of its location and topography, American Samoa faces a number of significant environmental and public health challenges:
- Almost 10 percent of residents do not have adequate indoor plumbing (piped water, a toilet or both)
- 17 percent of residents had tested positive for leptospirosis, a serious waterborne disease associated with improperly managed pig waste
- Heavy metals and other toxins in the inner portion of Pago Pago Harbor make fish unsafe to eat
Several factors contribute to the Territory’s high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. One such factor is its limited size reduces adaptation options. For example, communities have been established in available coastal zones and re-establishing them on the limited higher ground may not be feasible, especially when accounting for high population density and continued population growth. In addition, American Samoa is quite isolated and endures high transport costs for imported goods and services, upon which communities may heavily rely in the future. The limited available natural resources, including potable water, result in supplies that are heavily stressed and degraded from historic overexploitation.
In light of these vulnerabilities, American Samoa has taken an active role in researching, analysing, and predicting risks for the Territory in terms of climate change. Climate change is recognized as a real threat. Adaptation and mitigation opportunities continue to be developed and implemented throughout the islands. The Department of Commerce’s Coastal Zone Management Program and Coral Reef Advisory Group co-hosted a Climate Change Summit in February 2011 that led to numerous adaptation initiatives.