Tonga

Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 February 2022)

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This report is produced by OCHA Office of the Pacific Islands in collaboration with humanitarian partners. It covers the period from 28 January to 3 February 2022. The next report will be issued on or around 10 February 2022.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tongan authorities reported the country’s first community transmission of COVID-19 on 1 February 2022, triggering a nationwide lockdown effective 2 February 2022, 6 p.m. local time.
    The lockdown will last for 48 hours and may be extended. At time of writing, there were five cases – all in isolation.

  • Health partners, including WHO and UNICEF, and donors are working with Tonga’s Ministry of Health to take appropriate measures.

  • The lockdown may result in delays in the immediate relief effort although NEMO and partners are determined to continue relief distributions through a contact-less approach.

  • International humanitarian aid continued to arrive by air and sea from Australia, China, France, Japan and New Zealand.

  • Initial Damages Assessment (IDA) data has been completed and being is collected and analyzed by Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).

  • 28,900 people have received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance throughout the country.

  • Some 1,000 people (204 households) have received shelter assistance.

  • The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has supplied about 1.5 tons of maize and a variety of vegetable seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests.

  • Donors and international organizations havcommitted some US$ 27 million in financial assistance plus a considerable amount of in-kind support to the relief effort in Tonga.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

On 1 February 2022, two COVID-19 cases were identified among port workers at the wharf in Nuku’alofa. Both cases were detected via surveillance testing of 50 frontline workers. Three family members of one of the cases tested positive. All five cases are currently in isolation. Contact tracing is ongoing. A national lockdown was in effect as of 6pm 2 February. Interisland transportation is prohibited. The lockdown will be reassessed every 48 hours. The directives given by the Government of Tonga, can be accessed under the following link: National COVID-19 Lockdown Restrictions Directions | Government of Tonga (www.gov.to)

The lockdown may cause delays in the implementation of the humanitarian response carried out by NEMO and humanitarian partners on the ground. Initial information from NEMO indicates that they are still planning to continue with relief distributions, however, in a contact-less mode. NEMO has also been coordinating the Initial Damage Assessments and drafting of response plans by national clusters and line ministries.

It is understood that as of 03 February, Initial Damage Assessments (IDAs) have been concluded and data are currently being analyzed. Findings will then be tabled at the National Emergency Management Committee, after which it will go to Parliament. Because of the current outbreak of local COVID transmission and the subsequent lockdown, it is, however, not fully clear at the moment when data and response plans will be officially released. OCHA is in close contact with NEMO on this issue.

As of 31 January 2022, 2,390 people (2.4 per cent of the country’s population) or 465 households remain displaced three weeks after the disaster onset, according to IOM’s analysis of data from the IDA. About 750 are male, 780 female, 440 boys and 420 girls. Of the 465 households, 54 per cent are in the main island Tongatapu, 31 per cent in Ha’apai Island group, and 15 per cent in ‘Eua. Sixty per cent of the 465 households have their houses severely damaged or destroyed. The total number of displaced people rose by 57 per cent since the last reporting period with progress in field verification of the assessment data.

As concerns the logistics of bringing in relief supplies by sea or air, partners report a congestion at the port (various ships from Australia, France and New Zealand and other nations waiting to offload) and to a lesser extent at the airport; there mainly due to lack of handling staff and storage facilities. The local transmission of COVID has also further complicated procedures and the lockdown is likely to lead to further delays. With the help of rainfall, ash residue along the airport runway have been largely cleared. There have been no further reports of ash disturbance during landing, take-off and taxi operations. Most humanitarian needs are being met, however, access to safe water remains the most pressing issue. Forthcoming IDA data will help to analyze still existing humanitarian needs and identify most needed interventions by humanitarian partners.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) – in collaboration with Massey University of NZ – analyzed ash samples from the volcanic eruption and concluded that a) the ash will not make rainwater tanks acid and that the water will be safe to drink using normal precautions for rainwater harvesting; b) as regards food, small amounts of ingested ash are very unlikely to cause health problems.

The official name of the emergency given by the Government of Tonga is the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai (HTHH) volcanic eruption and Tonga tsunami (HTHH disaster). The official death toll stands at four; three direct and one indirect. Two females (aged 49 from Nomuka and aged 51 from Kanokupolu), one male (aged 65) from Mango Island passed away, due to the HTHH disaster; one female (aged 40 from Nomuka), as a result of the related trauma.

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