Tonga eruption: Aid agencies look at how best to support Tongans

Tonga eruption: Aid agencies look at how best to support Tongans

Posted by : Frank Short Posted on : 17-Jan-2022

17 January 2022

Aid agencies are meeting today to discuss a plan of action to provide relief to people affected by the tsunami in Tonga and the Lau Islands of Fiji.

International NGO's including Save the Children will be lead by the UN Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a meeting today.

Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali said they're planning on how best to manage and provide fresh drinking water food and psycho-social support .

"All the stakeholders are going to be discussing the respective plans and to come up with a collective response, not only for Fiji but for Tonga and to get an update from the ground to get an appropriate response."

She said the response may have to be co-ordinated remotely in the case of another eruption.

The families in Tonga are at risk of exposure to unsafe air and water due to ash and smoke.

Satellite images indicate that the eruption has emitted a 5 km-wide plume of ash, steam and gas, rising approximately 20km above the volcano.

Tonga's government has asked the public to wear masks and use bottled water for now.

Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali said ash has contaminated many fresh water sources.

"There is significant threat to food security and also to water sources in Tonga and so the immediate need right now for people in Tonga is that they need food and clean water."

She said information coming out of Tonga is still scarce due to sporadic communication and phone lines being down.

Oxfam is confident their local team and other local humanitarian groups in Tonga will be able to provide an initial immediate response to support people with food and drinking water.

Oxfam have filtering units in Tongatapu which can turn salt water into drinking water and it's likely teams on the ground will already be responding.

Oxfam Aotearoa Humanitarian Lead, Carlos Calder?n said it will be greatly needed, after the water supply became contaminated with ash fall.

"They do have units that could filter water from the ocean. They may have capacity to filter more or less 10,000L an hour which could be at some point enough to at least provide drinking water."

Calder?n said they can also help with food security.

UNICEF is ready to transport its pre-positioned emergency supplies from Fiji and Brisbane warehouses.

These include essential water, sanitation, and hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, water field test kits, tarpaulins, recreational kits, and tents, that can be immediately mobilized for distribution.

With borders closed in Tonga due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, UNICEF will work with the Tongan government and its partners on the ground to reach children and families with the support they urgently need.

Over 80-percent of households in Tonga grow crops to meet their daily needs.

Tearfund's CEO Ian McInnes said they will be responding immediately to the need for clean drinking water and tending to damaged crops.

Meanwhile, in a latest report, Power is being restored in Tonga's capital, and the country is sending naval boats to outlying islands to assess the damage from the huge Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption and tsunami.

A New Zealand Defence Force plane has left for Tonga to assess the damage from Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami.

The violent eight-minute eruption of the undersea volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai triggered atmospheric shockwaves and a tsunami which travelled as far afield as Alaska, Japan and South America.

The flight - which was dependant on whether the ash cloud from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai had dissipated enough - departed from Whenuapai air base in Auckland.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said reports overnight said there had been no further ash fall, and that there was no damage to the runway in Tonga.

"It's just a matter of clearing the ash from the runway.

"The flight is scheduled to leave this morning."

Mahuta said 80 percent of power was restored in the capital Nuku'alofa, on Tongatapu, but internet connections remained disrupted.

Damage on Tongatapu is able to be better assessed today, and the country was sending its naval capacity to the outer islands, she said.

The initial need was for water and water storage bladders, as well as food and medical supplies, she said, and Mahuta expected the Tongan government would be be making a more formal request for assistance.

The RNZAF P-3K Orion will carry out a reconnaissance flight over the affected area, including low-lying islands that have not been heard from.

The Defence Force was also preparing options for naval deployments to help with the recovery.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday the navy was making preparations, and either HMNZS Canterbury or HMNZS Manawanui could be deployed.

Labour MP Jenny Salesa, who is Tongan, last night joined a Zoom meeting with Tongan Methodist ministers, including Rev 'Ulufonua from Ha'apai.

He told them there had been no casualties on the group's main island. There was is a lot of ash on the ground and quite a number of houses had been damaged.

"One of the main things that they're dealing with right now is the damage to the water system and the fact that not all of the people were able to protect some of the tank water that they collect from the rain,"

Sources. Radio New Zealand.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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