(TONGA HIGH COMMISSION) One month ago, on the 15th of January 2022, the Kingdom of Tonga suffered from the double catastrophe of the Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and tsunami on the same day. The volcanic eruption blanketed Tonga in ash – affecting the air quality, covering everything and killing many of the crops in the fields.
Volcanic rocks pelted many structures and smashed around 200 of Tonga fishing boats. The tsunami, which was measured up to 15m, wiped out small islands and villages on the mainland, damaging infrastructure and untold buildings; livestock and communications are still being repaired and very limited. The difficult situation is now compounded with the first introduction of Covid to the Tongan Community – which has spread quickly and resulted in a series of rolling lockdowns – hampering recovery efforts.
Today we mark the one-month anniversary of this unprecedented natural disaster that has struck Tonga – from which it will take years to recover. The High Commission of the Kingdom of Tonga in Canberra is very grateful to the Government and the people of Australia for all their generous assistance, prayers and love that has extended to Tonga at this very challenging time. Australian Government assistance Tonga is a member of the Pacific family, and Australia is standing by Tonga in its time of need. Australia is ensuring that its assistance directly meets the immediate humanitarian aid and disaster relief needs of the Tongan people and government as a reliable and responsible partner of the Pacific family.
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne has announced AUD$3 million (US$2.1 million) in humanitarian assistance. The Australian Government is in close communication and coordination with the Government of Tonga at all levels, including Ministerial and Prime Ministerial levels – Prime Minister, Scott Morrison spoke with Prime Minister, Siaosi Sovaleni on 19 January. Tonga’s two Guardian-class Patrol Boats and a landing craft – all Australian gifted – were undamaged and have been used regularly by Tonga since the eruption to check on impacted communities, distribute essential supplies and evacuate people. Australia’s pre-positioned stores with the Tongan Red Cross have been delivered to impacted communities.
Humanitarian relief supplies
Royal Australian Airforce (RAF) has conducted eight aerial surveillance flights to assess initial damage across Tonga; more may follow at the request of the Government of Tonga, As of 15 February, 15 RAF humanitarian assistance flights have landed in Tonga carrying essential supplies and equipment, including family kits, hygiene kits, shelter kits and bedding, water purification tablets, Personal Protective Equipment and cleanup equipment, UNICEF emergency kits and satellite equipment from Telstra. RAF assistance flights have delivered over 130 tonnes of supplies and equipment to date, with more flights likely in the days ahead. HMAS Adelaide, the largest support vessel in the Royal Australian Navy, arrived in Tonga on 26 January carrying humanitarian and medical supplies such as shelter, water purification and hygiene kits, as well as engineering equipment and helicopters to support logistics and distribution. HMAS Adelaide completed contactless delivery of over 80 tonnes of supplies and equipment on 27 January. In total, HMAS Adelaide and Australian assistance flights have delivered more than 210 tones of essential supplies and equipment to date.
Communications with and within Tonga continue to be significantly impacted as a result of the disaster. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Telstra and Tongan telecommunications authorities moved quickly and effectively to address the disruption to communications. Basic mobile connectivity is now re-established, voice calls and texts are now operational on Tongatapu, and limited data services are also available through GPRS and 3G. Contact with and within Tonga is occurring through satellite technology provided by Australia and other partners, The Australian High Commission in Tonga has been making available its satellite phones to support official communications by the Government of Tonga. Tonga’s international and domestic communication cables were cut by the eruption and repairing these is a priority. A commercial cable repair vessel has arrived in Tonga and currently working on repairing the international cable. Australia is engaging with the Government of Tonga on connectivity options while the cable is being repaired, including possibly providing antenna and other communications equipment, potentially in collaboration with other partners. Australia is closely supporting Tonga in re-establishing communications with the outside world. This has allowed the Tongan community in Australia (numbering more than 40,000) and elsewhere to communicate with family and friends in Tonga to ensure their safety.
Cooperation with partners
Australia’s Department of Defence has established Operation TONGA ASSIST 22. The Tonga High Commission in Canberra and Australia is closely coordinating its response with partners including France and New Zealand (under the FRANZ agreement), Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. A coordination hub has been established at Defence’s HQ Joint Operations Command, where liaison officers are embedded from His Majesty’s Armed Forces of Tonga, Fiji, NZ, Japan, France and the UK, and with virtual participation from the United States. Australia is supporting offers of assistance from other members of the Pacific family through logistics and coordination where possible, for example, a contingent from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces left Australia on 9 February for Tonga to assist with the recovery efforts.
People to People
Tonga is also most appreciative for the outpouring of support from the Australian Community, including the Tongan-Australian Diaspora. The community has rallied together in an effort to raise much needed financial support and to collect donations of essentials. These donations are being co-ordinated in each state by the Pili-e-Tauhala Recovery Committees – formed by the Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lätufuipeka Tuku’aho, High Commissioner for Tonga. Also, Tonga is grateful for the donation of some urgently needed medical supplies by Med Earth through SmartAid, Equinox and others. As well, Thread Together have donated over 20,000 items of brand-new clothing and footwear. These donations were able to send to Tonga in the first of a number of containers graciously donated to Tonga High Commission by the Swire Shipping Group. The High Commission is very grateful to the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia Defence, the community and all these groups for their generous assistance to Tonga in its time of need.