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Daily Noon Briefing Highlights: Tonga

19 Jan 2022

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© UNICEF Pacific, from the Royal New Zealand Air Force

Daily Noon Briefing Highlights – 19 January 2022

Tonga

OCHA reports that about 84,000 people – more than 80 per cent of the population – have been affected by the disaster, with three confirmed fatalities to date. Injuries have also been reported. The Government of Tonga has issued a State of Emergency lasting until 13 February.

The most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items. Water supplies have been particularly affected by the volcanic ash, according to Tongan authorities.

The re-establishment of communication services including for international calls and the internet is an urgent priority. Domestic phone calls are currently operating only within Tongatapu and ‘Eua.

The UN is concerned about the islands of Mango, Fonoifua, and Nomuka which have been severely impacted, though sparsely populated. All houses are destroyed on Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka. Evacuation of people from Mango and Fonoifua to Nomuka is under way. 

In addition, data from surveillance flights showed that up to 100 houses are severely damaged on the main island of Tongatapu and about 50 on ‘Eua. 

The clean-up of the international airport continues, and it is hoped that it will be operational on Thursday local time. As indicated earlier, Australia and New Zealand have relief flights on stand-by. We understand that ships can dock at the ports.

On the main island of Tongatapu, with the capital Nuku’alofa, 90 per cent of the power has been restored.

Turning to the humanitarian response, Tongan authorities are conducting search and rescue operations, and have deployed two vessels carrying health teams and water, food and tents to the Ha’apai island group, where Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka are located.

Relief efforts are scaling up, but it is difficult to reach remote areas to assess people’s needs and provide assistance, and there are logistical challenges with shipping relief items internationally by air or by sea.

In addition, the country has strict COVID protocols that must be adhered to. 

The Tongan Red Cross Society and other local partners are distributing water, food rations and shelter and kitchen kits. 

UNICEF is shipping water and other supplies with Australia’s Royal Navy Ship, the HMAS Adelaide, which is planned to leave for Tonga on 21 January.

Japan has announced an emergency grant of more than $1 million and plans to send relief supplies and equipment.

Two New Zealand vessels with relief supplies are expected in Tonga in the coming days. 

China has announced that the Red Cross Society of China will provide US$100,000 in cash as emergency humanitarian assistance. 

And Fiji has 50 engineers from the military forces on stand-by to assist in the relief effort should there be a request by the Tongan Government.