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ReviewFood and water security is vital with global threat of coronavirus

Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government’s food and security commission is gathering additional information and seeking “data” from its public and private partners to complete its report on the security of food and water for American Samoa for submission to the Governor’s Office for review.

The commission gave a verbal summary of its work so far at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, where Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga urged the group to complete a detailed report for submission as food and water are both among urgent issues that need the government’s attention in case of natural and man-made disasters.

He said these issues would also become important if the new coronavirus, which is now a global threat, reaches American Samoa.

Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, who is also a commission member, gave a verbal summary of what the group has come up with so far. And among the issues that the commission was directed look into, is the cause of the perceived food shortage at stores late January into February — before last week’s severe storms.

She explained that the commission met to find out the actual food commodities that have prompted public concerns on the perceived food shortage, and the outcome of the review is “imported food” products including bottled water.

And the commission also looked into the cause of the food shortage, as directed by the governor, and it was learned that one of the major container cargo vessel, which was due in port earlier, returned to another port due to problems.

The second issue identified by the commission, was that during this particular time frame, there was an economic boost in local buying power, through the release by the Department of Human and Social Service of food stamps under the federal disaster assistance program because of Tropical Storm Gita in 2018.

She points out that this increase in financial assistance also boosts purchase of food items island-wide.

And after three cargo vessels called into port after last week’s storms, providing much needed supplies, she said store shelves are now restocked.

The next question that the commission responded to, as directed by the governor, is the status of locally produced food supply. She said the Agriculture director reports that during this time of shortage of imported food items, there were sufficient local agriculture products sold at the Fagatogo Market place as well as roadside stands.

For water from the American Samoa Power Authority water supply, the American Samoa Environmental Agency reports that 68% of the ASPA water is not under the boil water notice and can be used for consumption.

The commission also checked with the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, which reports that there aren’t any issues pertaining to fishing in our waters, it’s just that people are not going out fishing for food.

Matagi-Tofiga requested the governor to give the commission time to compile a complete detailed report for submission for his review, as there are other issues that the group needs, such as solid “data” from DoA, ASEPA and ASPA as well as private sector partners, such as importers and stores.

One of the cabinet members recalled a concern raised two weeks ago, regarding the sudden hike in prices for certain food products at the time when there seems to a shortage of imported food supply.

Matagi-Tofiga said it was reported “to us the gouging of prices” and the commission asked the Attorney General’s Office for their assistance as this is a “consumer issue” for the Consumer Protection Division of the AG’s Office to act on.

She also said that Commerce Department has an economist who will be working with the commission on economic issues pertaining to prices and similar matters.

Among the task of the commission is to assess the current status of food supply and make recommendations moving forward.