Tonga | Volcano and Tsunami - Operation update #1, Emergency Appeal N° MDRTO002


Glide No: VO-2022-000005-TON

This Emergency Appeal, which seeks CHF 2,500,000, is 68 per cent funded to date, and it supersedes the DREF funding of CHF430,666. Further funding contributions are needed to enable the National Society, with the support of the IFRC, to continue with the preparedness efforts and provide humanitarian assistance and protection to people on the move.

The Tonga Red Cross (TRCS) and IFRC are assisting approximately 17,000 people (2,833 households) affected by the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai (HTHH) volcano and tsunami. The funding contributions will meet the essential needs of the affected populace, help them self-recover from the crisis sustainably and strengthen their resilience to future shocks. The operation also intends to strengthen TRCS's response to future disasters and crises through preparedness, humanitarian assistance, and protection. The Operational Strategy is available here.


Description of the crisis

On 20 December 2021, an eruption was observed at Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha'apai, two sister volcanic islands in an uninhabited area approximately 65 kilometres north of Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital. There was further volcanic activity on 14 January, resulting in tsunami waves of 30 centimetres. These initial eruptions in 2021 gave little warning of the unimaginable eruption that would occur in the coming weeks. An eruption of historic proportions occurred at 17:20 on 15 January 2022 and sent ash more than 20 kilometres into the air in a five kilometres plume.

The eruption triggered an unprecedented Pacific-wide tsunami, with waves causing damage and casualties as far away as Chile and Peru. Locally, the subsequent tsunami waves of up to 15m struck the west coasts of Tongatapu, 'Eua and Ha'apai, and it is estimated that waves of 1.5-2 metres reached the capital, Nuku’alofa. Ash cover was reported to be one-two centimetres by the following morning and subsequently reached up to four-five centimetres in some areas. On Sunday, 16 January 2022, the ash cloud grew but subsequently dissipated. The underwater volcano eruption is believed to be the largest volcanic event in the past 30 years.

New Zealand Defence Force and Australian Defence Forces surveillance flights on 17 January showed significant damage to houses, roads, water tanks and other infrastructure on the west coast of Tongatapu, the Ha’apai island group and the west coast of ‘Eua.

Early government estimates were that 84,176 people (84 per cent of the population) on Tongatapu, Ha'apai and 'Eua) had been affected, particularly by ashfall. Following the eruption, a Tongan naval ship conducted a reconnaissance mission to outer islands in the Ha'apai group, accompanied by Red Cross volunteers with essential supplies such as tents, drinking water and hygiene kits. The assessment team found devastating scenes of destruction, with all infrastructure and housing on three out of four islands completely destroyed.

On 18 January, the Prime Minister of Tonga declared a state of emergency effective 16 January. Both the Tongan Government and the Tonga Red Cross (TRCS) have requested international assistance.

As of 8 February 2022, only three direct fatalities and one indirect fatality have been officially recorded in Tonga. The low level of fatalities partly reflects Tonga's effective early warning systems, combined with previous experience of natural disasters in Tonga. Following the eruption, a small proportion of people suffered breathing difficulties and a few, mainly children, were hospitalized.