Tropical Cyclone Gita Cyclone Gita passed through the Kingdom of Tonga on 12 February 2018 as a Category 4 cyclone with winds up to 200km per hour. 79,556 people, 75% of the population, have been affected. Tongatapu, where the capital Nuku’alofa is located, and the nearby island of ‘Eua suffered the greatest impact. The Government of Tonga immediately declared a State of Emergency until 5 March with a curfew in effect between 8 pm and 8 am. Significant housing and infrastructure damage was incurred, as well as damage to crops and major buildings, including Parliament House.
Initial assessments found 1,000 households on Tongatapu (5,700 individuals) sought shelter at 43 Evacuation Centres (schools, churches and village halls) on the night of the storm.
As of 22 February, many areas of Tongatapu are without electricity and the government has been undertaking repairs. Tonga Power Limited has indicated that it will take seven weeks to have complete restoration of power across the country. The water and power supply was restored within two weeks to all areas of ‘Eua, including to evacuation centres which is important in ensuring the safety of women and girls. Solar street lighting installed in some areas has proven to be a good investment as only 19 out of 131 were damaged by the cyclone and most of these were quickly repaired.
Almost all communications were restored within two weeks of the cyclone. This is an important contributing factor in ensuring vulnerable people can stay connected to family and friends and seek help if required. However, those living on Tongatapu need to be able to access sources of electricity to charge phones, and funds to buy credit. VHF radios and walkie talkies are being distributed but it is unknown who will receive them, and whether women will receive any of this equipment.
Initial assessments indicate shelter and WASH on Tongatapu are critical needs, with concerns about water quality and quantity and the risk of disease outbreak. NEMO1 is encouraging self-recovery approaches. A lack of access to clean water is increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, and rainwater collecting in debris are potential mosquito breeding sites, increasing the risk of vector borne diseases (dengue in particular). Counselling and psycho-social support services are limited, as is information regarding support for protection concerns. At evacuation centres, there is a lack of separated WASH, toilet facilities and sleeping arrangements. Many toilets do not have locks and lighting is insufficient – this creates additional risks of sexual assault and exploitation and many women residents have reported feeling unsafe. Further, lack of supervision of children at evacuation centres has raised child protection concerns, especially for young girls who may be at increased risk of sexual assault and/or exploitation.
The Safety and Protection Cluster has outlined the following priority activities in the Draft Response Plan :
Distribute food relief for the affected including women, disability, youth and children
Provide gender inclusion sanitation, hygiene and dignity kits
Provide assistive devices for people with disabilities
Provide counselling and psychosocial support
The 2018 cyclone season will not be over for another two months and the threat of another storm remains, along with the ever present possibility of other natural hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Recovery will take place within the context of a rapidly changing climate.3 Children and youth, people living with disability or chronic illness, elderly people, people living on the outer islands, widows, young single mothers, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (4 SOGIE) have been identified as most vulnerable to the impacts of TC Gita.