Tonga

Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No.1 (As of 25 January 2022)

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This report is produced by OCHA Office of the Pacific Islands (OoP) in collaboration with humanitarian partners. It covers the period from 22-25 January 2022. The next report will be issued on or around 28 January. [Previous updates on the crisis (OCHA Flash Updates #1 – 6) can be found on ReliefWeb.]

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ten days on from the violent eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, the Government of Tonga continues to provide relief in the most-affected islands while assessing damage and needs.

  • The complete results of the Government-led initial damage assessments will be released around 28 January.

  • Upon the request of the Government and preliminary assessment of needs, the Pacific Humanitarian Team is providing and mobilizing targeted assistance on the ground and remote support. Priorities include telecommunications, logistics capacity, access to clean water, non-food items and support with further needs assessment.

  • Significant deliveries of NFIs on their way to support the response, arriving with HMAS Adelaide.

  • Tonga’s key challenges continue to be access to safe water, ash clearance and ensuring food security.

  • Air operations challenged by ongoing presence of ash.

  • Telecommunications service providers in Tonga - Digicel and the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC) - have restored some services including voice, SMS, and limited internet services.

  • Tonga effectively coordinating its response to the volcanic eruption and resulting Tsunami – early warning saved lives.

85K affected people Source: NEMO

84% of the country’s population affected Source: NEMO

1 Field hospital swept away Source: NEMO

85% of agricultural households affected nation-wide Source: FAO

SITUATION OVERVIEW

Ten days on from the violent eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, the Government of Tonga and humanitarian partners (the Tongan Red Cross Societies, INGOs, donors and UN agencies) are carrying out initial damage assessments and providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance to people in need.

Communication lines are gradually being re-established and initially hard to reach areas are being visited by assessment teams.

The Government of Tonga and humanitarian partners report that the entire population of Tonga (approx. 105,000 people) have been impacted by the ash and the tsunami and that about 84,000 people (some 84% of the population) have been directly affected. At the height of the crisis, some 3,000 people had to seek shelter on higher grounds, either with relatives and friends or in evacuation centers. The vast majority have returned home by now. At least 62 people originally from Mango Island were initially evacuated to Nomuka Island and on 21 January to Tongatapu.

Because of a well-functioning early warning system and successful preparedness activities having been carried out in the past, only three people are confirmed to have died.

Initial assessment data indicate that about 240 houses have been damaged or destroyed. Some 100 houses have been damaged or destroyed on Tongatapu and 50 houses on ‘Eua alone. As access to some of the remote islands still proves a challenge, the numbers could still be rising.

The United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) has released on 20 and 21 January additional preliminary assessment reports that analyze damage in three islands: Nomuka (total population of 239 people) and Fonoifua (total population of 69 people) in the Ha’apai division and ‘Eua (total population of 4,903 people) in the Eua division. Large areas of the country have been covered with ash.

The main issue on the humanitarian side is access to safe water. On Tongatapu, ground water and clean rainwater are safe to drink. However, many water reservoirs have been contaminated and need to be cleaned. Information from Ha’apai’s main island indicates that the ground water is unsafe for drinking due to saltwater contamination.

The other concern is food security; the impact on agriculture is still to be established (damage to plants by ash covering huge areas). More than 85% of the population of Tonga was active in agriculture, including forestry and fishery.

Tonga remains COVID-free. The Government operates strict COVID protocols and requests all international support to Tonga be delivered in a contactless manner. Relief supplies, except water, have to undergo a 72-hour quarantine.

Shipping relief items from abroad remains a challenge. Although the international airport is operational since last week, the still existing ash and dust causes problems for airplane engines. In addition, the capacity for unloading and storing relief items is also limited. For the time being, there is a restriction of two flights per day. The port in Nuku’alofa is also being used and has already welcomed ships carrying relief items. As regards facilities and infrastructure in the outer islands, more information is still needed.

NEMO and humanitarian partners on the ground have been carrying out relief distributions (NFIs such as kitchen and household kits, hygiene and dignity kits, tarpaulins, tents, shelter tool kits, but also water and food rations) in Tongatapu and in the Ha’apai Island group.

The Pacific Humanitarian Team is scaling up the support based on the request from the Government and based on the assessment of needs.

Disclaimer

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.