The full scale of destruction is beginning to emerge from Tonga in the aftermath of the severe tropical cyclone Gita.
Around 50,000 people, or almost 70% of the country’s population, have been affected, a third of whom are children.
Water supplies across the main island of Tongatapu have sustained significant damage, making the risk of further outbreaks of waterborne disease a very real threat. Tonga was already addressing an outbreak of dengue fever in Tongatapu before the storm hit.
Jane Foster, Oxfam’s country director for Tonga, said: “Homes have been destroyed, government buildings flattened, and churches devastated. We have one report of a man, who is one of our local partners, sheltering in his home with his family as part of it was ripped away while they watched in horror.
“The impact of this severe storm will be felt on many people’s livelihoods for a long time to come. We also have grave concerns for the immediate threat from damage sustained to water supplies as the risk of contamination is high. There is a real risk of a second disaster from water and mosquito borne illnesses like dengue.”
“Our focus right now is to support our local partners to conduct assessments as quickly as possible – they are out there now finding out exactly where the most urgent needs are. Oxfam’s main relief efforts will focus on our area of expertise: providing safe water for people, as well as sanitation supplies and public health support to help prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.”
Severe tropical cyclone Gita made landfall in the southern part of Fiji last night. Ms Foster said the agency was deeply concerned for communities in the outer islands, who are yet to make contact.
"Some of these islands that are going to be affected are extremely remote and hard to reach in the best of times. We hope that preparedness plans and evacuation centres keep people safe until support reaches them.”
New Zealanders wanting to support people affected by Cyclone Gita are urged to ensure their generosity has the biggest impact by sending cash, not goods, Ms Foster said. “In a disaster, many people are often moved to send goods they think can help. But for the cost of shipping nine litres of bottled water from New Zealand to Nuku’alofa, Oxfam can produce over 16,200 litres of safe drinking water in Tonga.”