AMERICAN SAMOA POPULATION GROWTH IS "PHENOMENAL," SAYS TASK FORCE

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By Lewis Wolman

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (May 5, 2000 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---In 1960, there were only 2,500 local residents who had not been born in American Samoa. They accounted for 1 out of 8 residents.

Today, there are about 30,000 local residents born outside of the territory and they account for almost 1 out of every 2 residents.

From 1960 to 1990, the number of American Samoa residents born elsewhere increased from 2,500 to 21,000, while the number of locally born residents only increased from 18,000 to 25,000.

During that same period, the population of American Samoa was growing at a rapid clip, thanks to the combination of fast-rising in-migration and a very high (but declining) birth rate.

In fact, from 1980-1990, the local growth rate was 3.7 percent per year -- "one of the world's fastest," according to the newly released report of the Governor's Task Force on Population Growth.

Yesterday, Governor Tauese Sunia endorsed the Task Force's final report and asked Task Force Chairman Lt. Governor Togiola Tulafono to convert the task force into an Action Group.

The Governor wants the Action Plan developed by the Task Force implemented.

He agreed with Togiola that "the phenomenal population growth of American Samoa needs to be curtailed if government is to keep pace with the demand for public services and provide people with the good life they desire."

Population growth must be curtailed, the leaders agreed, to avoid the tremendous financial, cultural, social, and environmental costs that will result from unbridled continued population increases.

PROJECTIONS

The best pre-census guess is that 63,100 people now live in American Samoa, or almost twice as many as lived here 20 years ago.

Twice as many cars, containers, school children, hospital patients, baseball players, newspaper readers, etc.

Government experts believe that the population of the territory will double again in 20-25 more years, to 125,000 people.

At that point, ASPA estimates, we will start running out of drinking water and the stresses on the fa‘aSamoa, land tenure system, economy, roads, schools, hospital, and other social and physical infrastructure will be severe.

The report notes that classrooms are already overcrowded and teachers in short supply. Just to keep up (let alone move ahead), DOE needs to build 40 classrooms each and every year and hire the 40 teachers necessary to staff them. And the Budget Office needs to find the $2.6 million more needed each and every year to pay the bills.

The same calculus applies to health services, social services, police services, etc.

TIME TO SLOW DOWN

The Task Force wants to make sure the population of Tutuila Island does not exceed 115,000 "due to our limited sustainable supply of drinking water. But it is not simply a matter of finding more water. Other factors will also impose limits to growth, such as the availability of suitable land, traffic congestion, etc."

The government has thus pledged itself to take "all reasonable means to ensure that the population of American Samoa does not exceed 115,000. This will require decades of perseverance to reduce population growth through significant reductions in immigration and birth rates."

Governor Tauese has agreed to take responsibility for overhauling the immigration system to reduce the population of immigrants, or at least their rate of growth, and he is asking various government agencies to tackle the challenge of reducing birth rates without unduly interfering with personal rights.

Family planning is being endorsed and will be promoted, and ASG will "provide incentives for women to increase their education and economic status as a means to lower birth rates."

For example, women might be allowed to take one free course at ASCC (American Samoa Community College) per semester, and scholarships for American Samoan women might be established (with requirements for terms of service in the territory).

TAUESE'S VIEWS

"The problem of population growth definitely must be addressed if we are going to make progress," the Governor told the Task Force.

He made similar (though more mild) remarks in his Flag Day address.

"Togiola and I have known this was an issue since before we were elected, but we put this off while we dealt with other issues, such as the government's financial mess, health care and education. But we have to start on the population issue before the end of this term.

"It is a must if we are to be responsible leaders," he reflected.

Referring to his ideas for curtailing immigration from Western Samoa, Tauese joked, "There will be no more songs by Western Samoans about what a great Governor I am."

More seriously, he noted that even though he is half-Western Samoan (his mother was a Western Samoan), he is also Governor of American Samoa and must put the territory's priorities first.

He acknowledged that the fastest way to lower population in American Samoa is to ruin the local economy, but that is not an option he is advocating.

He recalled the post-WWII days when the local economy was in shambles. His father, an LMS minister in Fagatogo, would receive monthly love offerings of only $25 a month and times were hard for those who stayed home.

Those who could, he said, left. American Samoans headed up to the United States and Western Samoans returned home.

Things started to turn around after Van Camp re-opened in 1954 the first tuna cannery in American Samoa, which had initially and unsuccessfully been established in 1948 to accommodate an operation in Fiji.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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