A. SITUATION ANALYSIS
1. Description of the disaster
Tropical Cyclone Gita (TC Gita), a Category 4 system crossed Tonga between 12 and 13 February 2018 with average winds of 110 knots (285km/hour) close to the center, making it one of the worst cyclones to have ever hit the island nation in recorded history, has left a trail of damages to infrastructures and homes in Tongatapu (where the capital of the country Nukuʻalofa is situated) and ‘Eua.
A State of Emergency was declared by the Government of Tonga at 10.00 am on Monday 12 February 2018 for initially one month. This declaration was extended to the 12 April 2018 to allow for all agencies responding to complete all Emergency interventions and transition to early recovery. Upon the initial declaration the Tongan government to New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Division for Foreign Affairs of the Australian government for initial support and non-food items relief supplies.
Government-led assessment teams were deployed to assess the extent of damage to essential services, power and electricity, agricultural crops and school buildings, where damage was thought to be most severe in Tongatapu and ‘Eua. Latest figures released by NEMO indicates 4,451 houses have been damaged and destroyed in Tongatapu, and 257 in ‘Eua, for a total of 4,708 houses damaged or destroyed. Approximately 4,500 people sought refuge in evacuations centres. To date, all evacuees who were sheltered in about 108 evacuations centres in Tongatapu have returned to their usual place of residence.
2. Summary of response
Overview of Host National Society
Tonga Red Cross Society (TRCS) was established by an Act of Parliament in 1981, making it an auxiliary to the authorities. The National Society has a total of 154 emergency response trained (ERT) volunteers, 17 staff and presence in 80 per cent of the country through its community volunteers and three branches. The National Society has limited experience with managing a DREF operation, however it had recent experience managing emergency response from the 2014 Tropical Cyclone Ian (TC Ian) that devastated mainly the Ha’apai group.
TRCS liaised closely with the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) under the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC).
TRCS cooperates with government departments, particularly in the fields of disaster preparedness, relief and health. TRCS is represented on the National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC) the leading coordinating body for disasters in Tonga. The government national disaster plan recognizes TRCS as a provider of relief and assistance in emergency and recovery.
TRCS has its own disaster plan and an annual plan of action. TRCS has a disaster management unit. The disaster manager took the lead for the operation, with technical support provided from the IFRC country cluster support team (CCST) and regional office. The disaster management coordinator (DMC) role is to coordinate preparedness and response activities. TRCS has a core group of volunteers who are trained in emergency response supporting the TRCS role in responding to disasters through needs assessments, the delivery of First Aid, psychosocial support and relief distribution to the Tongan community. TRCS provides regular first aid training and disaster awareness throughout the country.
In 2007-2008, TRCS undertook the Preparedness for Climate Change Programme, during which TRCS engaged in vulnerability and capacity assessments (VCA) at the community level for the first time. Following a tsunami in 2009, TRCS developed a community-based project focusing on mangrove planting in Niuatoputapu, and has invested in the development of its branches with support from its partners.
TRCS’ territorial coverage is primarily on the islands of Tongatapu. It has limited branch activity in rural areas and outer islands; however, after TC Ian in 2014, with support from the Japanese Red Cross Society, TRCS built its branch in Ha’apai and with ongoing support from Australian Red Cross recruited three Branch Officers in Charge (OIC) in Ha’apai, ‘Eua and Vava’u enabling programme activities being undertaken from its headquarters in Nuku’alofa to have a much broader coverage of the country.
The National Society operates a school and services for the disabled and hearing impaired. It has approximately 300 members, primarily youth and about 17 staff, including for its services to the disabled. Since TC Gita, the school premises had been used as a makeshift Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) and this was then moved to the hall adjoining the HQ warehouse to allow the school to start operating again after TC Gita.
TRCS have prepositioned relief supplies in 14 sites across the country – five sites in Tongatapu; five sites in Ha’apai; one site in ‘Eua Island; 1 site in Vava’u Island and 2 sites in the far northern Nuia islands. At each site, TRCS volunteers have been trained in basic logistics processes to facilitate and track the transport of pre-positioned NFIs to distribution sites. The TRCS pre-positioned stocks could serve the needs of up to 2,000 households across the country, but shipping and transport constraints mean that not all stocks are easily transported between locations. The main interisland transport routes are from Tongatapu island (where the capital is situated) to other parts of the country via sea and air with regular schedules to most locations twice a week (except only once a month to the far northern Nuias).
Overview of Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in country
National Societies in the Pacific, along with the IFRC country cluster support team (CCST) in Suva and partner National Societies, were in regular communication and on high alert since this tropical cyclone was sighted by the Fiji Meteorological Service. The IFRC Suva CCST organized several teleconferences for concerned partners, including a partners' teleconference to better coordinate the Movement-wide response. The IFRC CCST continued to closely liaise with TRCS, providing support for information management (including preparation of informal updates) and international relations management.
The IFRC CCST supported TRCS in posting a DMIS update, an Information Bulletin, and coordinated extensive social media and media coverage of Red Cross references to Tropical Cyclone Gita in more than 100 international news articles.
CCST Suva coordinated with partner National Societies and deployed technical support under sectors such as shelter, health and psychosocial support, finance, logistics, PMER, Information management, communications and media to Tonga supporting the efforts of the local volunteers and staff of Tonga Red Cross Society. The operation was supported by the Pacific operations coordinator from the Asia Pacific regional office who arrived in Fiji on 13 February 2018 providing coordination support to CCST Suva. An IT&T emergency response unit (ERU) was on standby to be deployed to restore communications if needed in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, however was not required
IFRC launched a DREF operation, in support of TRCS, providing immediate funding for initial needs assessment, WASH, Health, Shelter and distribution of prepositioned non-food relief items. The DREF operation was completed on 31 May 2018, with TRCS returning to business as usual.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regional delegation in Suva, together with the National Societies promote international humanitarian law (IHL) and raises other humanitarian issues with governments, security forces, academic circles, the media and civil society. The ICRC assists communities affected by conflict and visits detainees. It helps National Societies build their capacity in the fields of communication, dissemination and restoring family links and supports them in keeping their legal base updated.
Overview of non-RCRC actors in country
High commission offices for New Zealand and Australia are present in the capital Nuku’alofa alongside the embassies of China and Japan. The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade specifically has a post in Nuku’alofa to assist in mobilising support to the Government of Tonga.
Caritas, Save the Children, Oxfam, Act for Peace, Mainstreaming of Rural Development Initiative (MORDI) (with support from CARE International and CARE Australia), WHO, UNICEF, FAO and UNDP have a local presence with support from their country offices in Suva, Fiji. Habitat for Humanity, IOM, UN Women, UNFPA had also been supporting the efforts of the local entities and line ministries that were leading the operation in all sectors.
Coordinating with the authorities
The Tongan government led the emergency response. The National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) coordinated efforts and activated the national and district Emergency Operations Centres (EOC). The TRCS coordinates closely with the NDMO and is a participant in the high level National Emergency Management Council (NEMC), which is currently chaired by the Tonga acting Prime Minister. Red Cross volunteers were mobilized at the request of the NEMO and supported joint damage assessments according to its mandated role. The NEMO has made radio announcements encouraging communities at risk to cooperate with Red Cross volunteers and NEMO.
The government and the Food Security Cluster met food requirements for affected communities, by providing a onemonth food distribution. Distribution of food is the government’s responsibility. The Health and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene promotion (HNWASH) Cluster coordinated Health and Hygiene promotion interventions to reduce the risks of Dengue cases and prevent any further outbreak in the aftermath of TC Gita. The Tonga Power and two of the telecommunication service providers were mobilised to restore power and communications in both islands. Power is now restored across Tongatapu.
The cluster system was adopted by the Government of Tonga as their way of coordinating the response, besides bilateral requests to the governments of Australia and New Zealand. However, the humanitarian community is supporting the Tonga national sectorial coordination. All coordination activities are led by a government ministry and co-led by a humanitarian agency. These were happening on a daily basis and aimed to share information on needs, on gaps and agree common approaches and tools, including protection gender and diversity equality in this response.
Several joint sectorial meetings were been held; bringing together key stakeholders in health & WASH, shelter, food security, essential services, protection, gender and inclusion and as well as early recovery.
On the 14 February 2018, the Government of Tonga through the Ministry of Finance and National Planning requested the assistance from the Pacific Humanitarian Team, specifically seeking immediate support for technical and coordination from UNOCHA, and cluster support through the local cluster arrangements.
The Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) in Suva Fiji was mobilized and coordinated regular meetings for agencies, providing overall coordination of humanitarian actors remotely. This joint approach aimed to ensure that sectors are aligned in their approach. In addition, Cluster Leads met daily with the NEMO to ensure good coordination and information flow. An informal Pacific Humanitarian Team is established and often meets to look at the coordination of international humanitarian assistance and update on what the cluster leads and partners are doing in support to the efforts of the Government of Tonga. PHT held its last coordination meeting in Tonga on 08 March.
The shelter cluster was activated by the Government of Tonga back in 2014 in response to TC Ian. The government provided leadership to the cluster through the NEMO office. IFRC has been leading the Pacific shelter cluster since its activation in 2012, as a part of the Pacific Humanitarian Team. In its role as convener of the emergency shelter cluster in natural disasters, the IFRC was requested by the Government of Tonga to deploy a shelter coordination team (SCT) to support and advice the cluster lead on humanitarian shelter response. In this case, the SCT was deployed to Tonga independent of the IFRC - National Society operation. The team was exclusively dedicated to the task of supporting shelter cluster coordination, for the benefit of all actors involved in shelter interventions. A web page dedicated to the Tonga shelter cluster has been created on the Global Shelter Cluster website.