Tonga

Strengthening resilience of schools to the impacts of disasters in Tonga

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Situation during Tropical cyclone Gita:

21st December, 2020 “The feeling of coming back home to their own school was such a great feeling and touching. A lot of parents and kids were crying (tears of joy) and hugging each other when we went there for the opening. it was so touching to see the reaction of the communities towards the completion and commissioning of their new classrooms.” These are the words of Mr. Manu ‘Akauola, one of the Deputy Chief Executive Officers of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) in Tonga, describing the excitement of the communities and students towards the opening of their new reconstructed classrooms which were damaged by the devasted Tropical Cyclone (TC) Gita in 2018.

As a Pacific Island state, Tonga is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and disaster events and is one of the most vulnerable nations in the Pacific region due to frequent systemic activity, high incidence of cyclone formation in the vicinity of the island group, low lying geophysical makeup of the island group, and development status.

In February 2018, Tonga was hit by the Category 4 cyclone Gita causing significant damage to both Tongatapu and ‘Eua. According to the Tonga Post Disaster Rapid Assessment Report, about eighty percent of Tonga’s population was affected with widespread damage to power lines, crops and fruit trees, houses, buildings, domestic airport and education infrastructure which resulted in closure of schools.

The report further highlighted that about 75 percent of schools, both governmental and non-governmental schools were severely impacted, with around 23,000 students at all levels of education.

Intervention by the Pacific Resilience Program (PREP):

With the damage and losses caused by TC Gita on public buildings including health and school, it has highlighted the need to improve resilience of buildings in Tonga more broadly, in order to avoid similar impacts to schools and other public facilities in the future.

Accordingly, the Pacific Resilience Program (PREP), a World Bank funded program together with support from the Australian Government, additional financing was secured to enable the climate and disaster resilient recovery of schools in Tonga that were impact by TC Gita.

“The World Bank is supporting the reconstruction and retrofitting of thirty schools, both government and non-government owned. Some schools have now been completed. Our target is to complete all school reconstruction and retrofitting by the end of this year,” said Mr. ‘Akauola.

When asked about the standards of the building, Mr. ‘Akauola delighting said that these school facilities were designed and built according to the standards and principles of ‘Build Back Better’ with the strength to withstand Category 5 cyclones, seismic events and windows that have security features that protects the louvres and buildings during strong winds, thus reducing risk of damage.

Mr. ‘Akauola added that “when cyclones strike or hit, there is no need for us to worry to try and put up shutters or even old corrugated roofing iron sheets where we normally put to protect winds from damaging the windows.”

Mr. ‘Akauola acknowledges the funding support provided to the Government of Tonga through the PREP by the World Bank and by Australian Government to ensure that school facilities are now designed and built to resilient standards.

With the application of ‘Build Back Better’ principles on these classrooms, he highlighted that now it is up to the Ministry to consider these building standards for the future construction of schools in order to reduce and mitigate risks related to disasters. The Project has prepared updated standard designs for use in all schools in Tonga. These updated standard designs provide a more resilient, and more accessible design and have been used for all schools’ construction under PREP.

A lesson learned throughout the process of reconstruction is that community engagement, effective coordination and ‘political will’ are vital in resilience building.

ENDS

For further information contact:

‘Elina Kaufusi Bloomfield, t: (676) 23-160, e: elinakb1466@yahoo.com.au

PREP Project Management Unit (PMU)

Level 4, OG Sanft Building, MEIDECC