Tonga: Red Cross tackles triple disaster – COVID-19, volcanic fallout, tsunami

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Kuala Lumpur/Suva April 15, 2022 – Three months after the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami, the Pacific island nation of Tonga is grappling with another disaster: its first serious outbreak of Covid-19 which forced the government to extend a state of emergency and to impose a series of confinements.

The strict Covid measures have severely affected the work of government and relief agencies and their ability to distribute relief. The Tonga Red Cross was forced to scale back operations for several weeks, relying on reduced staff and a core of volunteers to carry out essential ‘contactless’ distributions.

First detected in February, the virus reached the outer islands last month, skipping quarantine lines designed to contain it to the main island of Tongatapu. As a result, the lockdown has been extended to the Ha’apai group – another blow to hard-hit island communities whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by the eruption and tsunami.

After a three-week delay, a group of 25 Tonga Red Cross Society staff and volunteers were finally allowed by the Ministry of Health to travel by boat to the Ha’apai Islands to deliver food, medicine bottled water, family kits and washing kits. .

Observing strict “no-contact” protocols, rescue teams left supplies on beaches to be picked up after departure.

Sione Taumoefolau, Secretary General of the Tonga Red Cross, said:

“Tonga is tough, but they have faced a unique triple disaster, making life very difficult and relief and recovery operations even more difficult.

“Following the devastation caused by volcanic eruptions, smothered by blankets of toxic ash and hit by a huge tsunami and then Covid-19, it is essential to balance the safety of our staff, the health of our communities and the need urgent to deliver relief.

“Red Cross volunteers on the islands are a crucial lifeline in this operation, keeping us informed of the humanitarian needs on the ground and enabling us to deliver much needed supplies.

“More rain and bad weather during the cyclone season has also impacted our response to those affected.”

The January disaster, combined with lockdown measures limiting business activity, severely affected Tonga’s economy. The World Bank estimates the total damage at 90.4 million dollars, or the equivalent of 18.5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Katie Greenwood, Head of Delegation for the Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said:

“Disasters of this magnitude can overwhelm the resources of any nation. It took a well-coordinated regional response, with Pacific neighbours, the international community and a generous Tongan diaspora, to support vital local relief efforts.

“This effort will extend well beyond the weeks and months to come, helping communities devastated by the tsunami rebuild with safer homes and water supplies to be better prepared for future climate disasters.”

For more information contact:

In Suva: Soneel Ram, +679 9983 688, [email protected]

Asia-Pacific office: Antony Balmain, +60 12 230 8451, [email protected]


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