02-02-22: Tonga goes into lockdown at 18.00 local time that day until further notice and upon review of the Directions every 48 hours. 06-02-22: extension of lockdown until 20 February for Tongatapu and Vava'u. Lockdown lifted elsewhere.
LINK: Tonga Lockdown Directions
The Tonga Government has declared a State of Emergency until 13 February 2022 in the light of the impact of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haa’pai volcanic eruption and tsunami.
After weeks of volcanic activity emitting ash, the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano in Tonga erupted violently on 15 January. The eruption is said to be one of the biggest in Tonga in the last 30 years, with satellite imagery indicating a 5 km wide plume of ash, steam, and gas, rising approximately 20 km above the volcano. The volcanic eruption generated a 1.2-metre tsunami that crashed ashore in coastal areas of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.
Several tsunami warnings were issued and tsunami waves affected several countries of the Pacific Ocean, particularly Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, USA, Mexico, Peru and Chile. In addition, a huge amount of ashfall emitted by the volcano has been recorded in Tonga (particularly in Tongatapu Island) and across the islands of Vatoa and Ono-i-Lau in Fiji.
The estimated population within 100 km of the volcano is 76,000 people [...] Tonga has been blanketed by 1-2 cm of volcanic ash, affecting the majority of the country and impacting on water and food supplies. Air quality is also of concern. In Fiji, population was advised to cover all household water tanks, wear face masks and stay indoors in the event of rain, due to the risk of rainfall becoming acidic. The Government of Tonga (GoT) has instructed its population to wear face masks and drink only bottled water due to concerns of ashfall contamination in the air and water sources. The capital’s water supply is safe to drink but most people now rely on bottled water. Access to drinking water remains one of the highest priorities. NEMO and humanitarian partners have established 16 water stations areas around Tongatapu. The areas of Popua, Patangata, Kanokupolu, and Ahau have been sprayed for vector control and decontamination and the ground water has been chlorinated for safety. The loss in the agricultural sector is estimated at USD 17 million, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests.
Following the violent eruption, the communications in Tonga were completely lost on 16 January 2022.The eruption and tsunami severed the international telecommunications cable from Fiji to Tonga. A repair vessel in Papua New Guinea is available to conduct repairs pending sufficient debris clearance operations and safe conditions in Tonga. Communication with authorities and population remains challenging, there are no internet and international phone lines with intermittent signals for satellite phones. However, on 17 January 2022, the local phone systems have been restored. Power has also been restored to parts of the capital. Shipping data indicates the repair ship CS Reliance has been located off the coast of Tonga's main island since early February as it assesses the damages. Repairs to both the international cable and domestic one (which runs near the volcano) will take longer than initially anticipated.
Due to the difficulty in communications and access, damage assessment is still ongoing and the exact needs and the impact on infrastructure and population are still unclear. In addition to Copernicus, the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM) was activated on 18 January following a request from Tonga for managing the volcano eruption and tsunami consequences.
GoT initial assessments via boat of the Ha’apai island group—where approximately 6,600 people reside—indicate the eruption and subsequent tsunami resulted in the widespread destruction of houses and other infrastructure, including the destruction of all houses on Ha’apai’s Fonoi and Mango islands, which are inhabited by an estimated 100 people. Island inhabitants require urgent food, medical supplies, and safe drinking water. The GoT plans to dispatch a ferry from Tonga’s Tongatapu Island to Ha’apai to evacuate those stranded once response actors clear sufficient debris from port laneways. The NZ navy surveyed and declared the Nuku'alofa port facilities on 21 Jan, followed by the Eua port on 24 Ja. The GoT has been conducting ash and debris clearance operations on airport runways and the Fuaʻamotu International Airport was operational again as of 21 Jan, followed by the Ha’apai runway. Update 10-02-22: repatriation flights to /from Tonga are set to resume on 15 February. Priority will be given to stranded citizens and those with critical medical conditions.
Health facilities in Tonga are functional and have not reported an increase in consultations in recent days, the UN reports. In addition, the tsunami did not damage Tonga’s central medical warehouse in the capital city of Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu. The mobile clinic operated by TEMAT on Ha'apai was stood down on 20 Jan., with only some medical staff left. A field hospital was set on Nomuka on 24 Jan-.
The Government of Tonga and humanitarian partners report that the entire population of Tonga (approx. 105,000 people) have been impacted and that about 84,000 people (some 84% of the population) have been directly affected. Tonga’s key challenges continue to be access to safe water, ash clearance and ensuring food security. The Pacific Humanitarian Team is scaling up the support based on the request from the Government and based on the assessment of needs. The PHT is convening regular meetings with partners on the ground and cluster counterparts. Remote support is being provided from Fiji due to COVID constraints limiting the number of humanitarian travelers accepted in Tonga. The first cases of COVID on 2 February and subsequent spread (66 cases as of 10/02) will impact aid delivery, as well as further relief and recovery planning.
[Sources UNICEF, ECHO, OCHA]
Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETS) - Tonga response
ITU Disasters Connectivity Map - Tonga
UNOSAT Preliminary Satellite-based Assessment - 4 Feb 22
Tonga Humanitarian Snapshot - 04 Feb