WelCom March 2023
Amanda Gregan, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano on 15 January 2022 caused widespread devastation across the dispersed island nation of the Kingdom of Tonga, Tongan Fakatu’i ‘o Tonga. Estimates indicated the disaster affected 85 per cent of Tonga’s population, with businesses, homes, workplaces, schools and telecommunications infrastructure impacted by the eruption or subsequent tsunami.
The support of Caritas’ One World Partners meant Caritas Aotearoa could act swiftly to help our brothers and sisters in need. In the spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity, we listened to our partners on the ground and responded to their needs and the communities they support. Your continued generosity enabled us to assist the recovery through food parcel and crop provision, strengthening of emergency shelters, water security measures and psychosocial support.
To mark the first anniversary of the Tongan eruption and tsunami, we spoke to Caritas Tonga Director Suliana Falemaka about the devastation and on-going rebuild.
Effects on Tonga
As it has been reported, some infrastructure like the airport, the wharf, hospital, and some community health facilities were affected, including the loss of shelters and a great impact on livelihoods such as agriculture.
The disaster continues to impact the lives of our people. The people of Tonga are still living in fear; thunder and lightning have become alarming to many as it brings back memories of the most frightening and terrifying event in the history of our small nation.
Caritas Tonga response
Caritas Tonga and its partners in humanitarian response were able to assist the immediate response to affected communities through mobilising our prepositioned stock. This response included the distribution of NFI (non-food item) kits and clean water in some communities. The prepositioned stock was very helpful for first responders, and mobilising the stock was a relief for those in need. Caritas Tonga also deployed the Hala ki ‘Emeasi counselling team to Kanokupolu, a severely impacted community in the North of the mainland, to provide trauma counselling immediately after the event.
In addition to work that will strengthen facilities to act as emergency shelters in the future, and supporting the water security of impacted populations, Caritas Tonga has identified it is critical to provide psychosocial support not only to the affected communities but the whole of Tonga.
Many local people have been impacted psychologically, so Caritas Tonga has conducted Psychosocial Empowerment outreach in communities throughout the year, starting with those most affected. These measures seek to uphold the dignity of those affected and enhance their lives so they will be resilient and well prepared now and into the future. Our Disaster Risk Reduction plan aims prioritise psychosocial empowerment because if people know how to better manage risks in their everyday life it will be helpful in response to any disaster.
The displacement of communities greatly impacted by the eruption and tsunami is ongoing. Relocation of the village of ‘Atata Island has been completed, with the population now residing on the main island of Tongatapu. The community of Mango Island has been given temporary shelter on ‘Eua Island while construction of their shelters is underway.