Government of Tonga accepts support from Pacific Humanitarian Team
(Suva, 22 January 2014): The Government of Tonga has formally accepted support from the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) to provide assistance to the thousands of people in Ha’apai affected by Tropical Cyclone Ian.
The UN Resident Coordinator (RC), Ms Osnat Lubrani, and Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Pacific, Mr Sune Gudnitz, have recently returned from Tonga after meeting with the Acting Prime Minister and Cabinet, and seeing first-hand the destruction in Ha’apai.
“We visited the main island in Ha’apai and there is a lot of devastation,” said Ms Lubrani. “After meeting with the Government, we have agreed to provide urgent supplies and technical personnel through a coordinated PHT response in support of the Government’s identified needs.”
Priority areas identified by the Government include shelter, food security, water, sanitation and health (WASH), and general coordination and planning support. A meeting was held with PHT partners in Suva today to confirm resource and personnel requirements.
“Specialists in WASH, early recovery, information management and coordination are already in Tonga to support the Government,” said Mr Gudnitz. “While it is critical to focus on immediate life-saving needs, we are also working with the Government to ensure response and longer-term early recovery efforts are aligned.”
Most Ha’apai households rely on rainwater catchment systems for water, however most have been contaminated or damaged by the storm. Through the PHT WASH cluster, UNICEF is sending urgent supplies to Tonga from Fiji, including water containers, purification tablets, water filters and soap.
“When natural disasters happen, the issue of clean and safe water, as well as proper hygiene is always a major concern to prevent outbreaks of diarrhoea and skin infections,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Dr. Karen Allen. “The WASH kits and other supplies will to some extent hinder the spread of disease and illness, but re-establishing safe drinking water supplies is a priority.”
An estimated 18 schools have been affected in Ha’apai, impacting nearly 1,300 students who are due back to school in coming weeks. To make schools functional, UNICEF, through the Education cluster, is working with the Ministry of Education to provide tents for temporary learning spaces, School-in-a-Box kits and student backpacks.
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