Tonga consists of 171 islands spread over an area of 748 km², of which 36 islands are inhabited. The islands are in four main groups: Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou. The capital Nuku’alofa is located on the main island of Tongatapu and has a population of approximately 34,000 people.
Tonga is highly vulnerable to a range of natural disasters and, as its population is predominantly in low-lying coastal areas and spread over small isolated islands, response efforts are often difficult. In addition to cyclones, natural hazards in Tonga include earthquakes and volcanic activity. Tonga lies very close to the convergence of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plate, one of the most seismically active areas in the Pacific.
In February 2018, Tropical cyclone Gita as a category 4 storm made landfall in Tongatapu and Eua. According to the latest Situation Report 7 issued by Tonga National Emergency Management Operation Centre (NEMO) on 21 February 2018, a total of 2,248 households have been damaged or destroyed in Tongatapu and ‘Eua with a total of 41 active evacuation centers in Tongatapu and 5 in Eua. A total of 85 schools have also been reported damaged. NEMO is coordinating the overall response effort with support from international and regional actors. According to NEMO, the response plan was being coordinated since the beginning of the declaration of the emergency while clusters have also developed response plans to be tabled to the Cabinet in line with the National Response Plan of the government.
The following national clusters have recently been active and engaged in the response: WASH, Economic and Social Recovery, Education, Logistics and Communications. The UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji, conduct a field visit and met with senior Government officials which included the Prime Minister and assured the commitment and support from the UN and the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) in supporting the Government in response and recovery. The kingdom declared a state of emergency and requested for assistance from the UN and the PHT. OCHA deployed 2 staff from Suva and 2 staff from Bangkok to support overall coordination and information management. OCHA is coordinating the overall UN and PHT response.
In 2015, a drought warning was declared. The National Emergency Management Office urged people to get ready for a looming water crisis. In January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian tracked between Fiji and Tonga for several days before intensifying to a Category 5 system with winds over 200 kilometres per hour. In the early hours of 11 January, the cyclone swept east of the Vava’u group before passing directly over Ha'apai in the afternoon. A state of emergency was declared for Vava’u and Ha’apai the same day. There was one fatality, 14 injuries and extensive damage to houses, infrastructure and agriculture. A total of 534 houses were destroyed and 398 were damaged. Around 2,335 people sought shelter in 51 formal and informal shelters. On 21 January, the Government accepted international assistance from the Pacific Humanitarian Team who supported national clusters for the first time. OCHA OP supported response planning and information management, while the PHT deployed expertise in WASH, Health, Protection, Livelihoods, Food Security and Shelter. The three-month response plan totalled US$15.1 million.
Due to its seismic activity, Tonga is also vulnerable to tsunamis. The last significant tsunami hit Niuatoputapu in September 2009. Nine people were killed when six to 17-metre-high waves came inland 600 m and destroyed many villages.
The National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) is responsible for the overall coordination and implementation of the country national disaster disaster management plan. UN have a presence in Tonga through a Joint Presence Office consisting of WHO, UNDP and UN Women.