Thursday May 19, 2022

Some money services reopen in Tonga, drinking water the priority

January 23, 2022

By News Desk

Tongans queued for limited money services that were restored in the Pacific island's capital on Saturday, as the clean-up continued a week after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.

Tonga's government said drinking water was the priority, and a national emergency team had already distributed 60,000 litres of water to residents. A desalination plant on a New Zealand naval ship that arrived on Friday, capable of producing 70,000 litres a day, has started drawing seawater from Tonga's harbour.

Residents who had lost homes on outlying islands when a tsunami reaching up to 15 metres crashed over the South Pacific archipelago would be relocated to the main island, Tongatapu, because of water and food shortages, the Tongan prime minister's office said in a statement distributed to Tongan officials.

Volcanic fallout on the surface of the ocean was damaging boats and making marine transport between the islands challenging, and domestic flights were suspended, it said.

Ash fall and the tsunami had affected 84 percent of the population, and inter-island communications remain an "acute challenge" with limited satellite and radio links, it said.

Faka'iloatonga Taumoefolau, the coordinator for the project to rebuild Tonga's parliament, said the restoration of international money transfer services, for limited hours on Saturday, was important for people to be able to buy essential goods.

"Tongans have demonstrated their resilience in this calamity and will get back on their feet," he said.

More naval vessels from Australia, New Zealand and Britain are en-route to Tonga to deliver aid. Two aid flights, from Japan and New Zealand, arrived on Saturday with humanitarian supplies, after two flights from Australia on Friday evening.

The Tongan government has implemented a strict Covid-19 policy that means people, including aid workers, cannot enter the country unless they have undergone a three-week isolation period.

Aid deliveries have been contactless, with pallets quarantined for 72 hours after arrival at the airport before being distributed by Tongan authorities. One Australian aircraft returned to Brisbane midflight on Thursday after being notified of a Covid-19 case among the crew.

An aid delivery expected from China would also be contact-less to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the government said.

Sione Hufanga, the resident United Nations country coordination specialist, told Reuters that the agency is assisting the government in relief work as more people arrive at shelters and seek food and other supplies.

"Almost all crops in the country have been badly affected. Farmers have lost their homes and livelihood," he said. "The country will be heavily relying on aid food for some time."

The agricultural sector contributed nearly 14 percent of Tonga’s GDP in 2015/16 and represented over 65 percent of exports.

The Tongan government said it is "deeply appreciative to the international community" for its assistance, which included $8 million in funding from the World Bank and $10 million from the Asia Development Bank.

Reliance, a repair ship due to reconnect the undersea cable that links Tonga to international telecoms networks, left its Port Moresby mooring and was expected in Tonga on Jan. 30, according to Refinitiv data on shipping movements.

The vessel was expected to arrive "in the next few days" to repair the fibre-optic cable, the Tongan government said.

In the meantime, partial communications has been established, although mobile network provider Digicel said the high number of calls to the island was producing delays.

Meanwhile, Tongans said they were determined to rebuild their battered homeland in the wake of last week´s devastating eruption and tsunami as a massive clean up continued in the Pacific kingdom.

Tongan journalist Marian Kupu said most locals are adamant on remaining as the huge recovery efforts began.

"We want to stay here in our country because this is what identifies us as Tongans. We want to rebuild our country and unite and move on," Kupu told AFP.

An estimated one cubic kilometre of material blasted from the volcano, and experts expect Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha´apai to remain active "for weeks to months".

"Tonga´s people are going to need sustained support responding to a disaster of this scale," Sione Hufanga, the United Nations Coordination Specialist in Tonga said.

"The people of Tonga are still overwhelmed with the magnitude of the disaster."

Tonga ranks third on the World Risk Report, which measures countries on their susceptibility to experiencing natural disasters.

Despite the risk, Kupu said most Tongans wanted to stay.

"It´s this feeling of pride that we have here, that we don´t want to leave the country we were born and raised in," she said.

One survivor from the island of Atata, which was flattened by the tsunami, told her he would return to the island even after the devastation, she added.

"He explained he wished to go back because his parents are buried there, he was born there and his life is there.

"He wished the government or anybody would help rebuild his little island so he could go back."