• Crisis Severity ?
    1.3
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Impact ?
    2.0
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Humanitarian Conditions ?
    1.0
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Complexity ?
    1.1
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    1.0
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints

Overview

30/01/2022

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano erupted in the Pacific Ocean on 15 January, triggering a tsunami measuring up to 80cm that flooded Tonga island. The eruption sent out volcanic ash, steam, and gas, rising approximately 18km above the volcano and covering parts of the country with ash and smoke. The most affected area is Tongatapu, the main island. As at 30 January, three fatalities and several injuries are confirmed, in addition to around 290 houses damaged or affected. ?

It is estimated that 80% of the population (up to 84,000 people, including 28,000 children) was affected by the eruption. More than 1500 people are displaced and staying in private cars, houses of friends or family, or evacuation centres. The most urgent need across the island is clean drinking water, as water supplies have been disrupted and contaminated by layers of volcanic ash and salt water. Other needs include food, shelter, WASH, and health.?

Conducting humanitarian assessments is difficult because all communication lines in the country have been disrupted, and the most affected areas are inaccessible following the tsunami. Phone connections and electricity were down between 15–16 January, and communication with the island remains difficult. Access to the island through flights is on hold because of ash clouds covering the airport.?

Latest Developments

03/03/2022

No recent significant humanitarian developments. The crisis is being monitored by our analysis team.

 

Risk

Continued COVID-19-related movement restrictions and extreme weather conditions during the cyclone season delay the recovery process from the tsunami and result in increased humanitarian needs Latest update: 27/03/2022

Probability

Highly unlikely Somewhat likely Highly likely

Impact

Very low Moderate Major

RATIONALE

A volcanic eruption and a tsunami hit Tonga on 15 January 2022, affecting 80% of the population (84,000 people).? With relief aid coming from foreign countries into the island, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases starting 1 February. Previously, Tonga had recorded only one COVID-19 case since the start of the pandemic, with the Government applying strict measures on international travel to avoid an outbreak.?

There were 2,765 cases confirmed between 1 February and 18 March, including two related deaths.? Despite a relatively high vaccination rate (around 70% of the population), officials fear that a COVID-19 outbreak could be a bigger threat than the volcanic eruption.? The rapid increase in cases led the Government to impose a nationwide lockdown on 2 February that will likely create delays in recovery from the disaster. Lockdown measures in Tonga include keeping people indoors, suspending internal travels between Tonga’s islands, closing schools and non-essential businesses, and prohibiting foreign nationals from entering the country.? Despite an easing of restrictions on 28 February, primary and high school students have continued being homeschooled, and the nighttime curfew is still active between 20:00–05:00.?

IMPACT

The volcanic eruption and tsunami have already affected about 80% of the population in Tonga. A delayed recovery process resulting from COVID-19 movement restrictions will likely worsen the situation for these people. The restrictions can also have a socioeconomic impact on the rest of the population. As at 28 February, there are 2,400 IDPs across Tonga because of damages to their homes. Reconstruction work is essential to assist displaced people, but COVID-19 movement restrictions will likely make the process challenging.? The impact of volcanic ash on crops, livestock, and fisheries, considered the main sources of income for Tonga’s population, has affected about 60,000 people.? Movement restrictions and the closure of non-essential businesses, such as bars, gyms, and restaurants, would also increase livelihood needs and likely delay people’s recovery. Schools reopened on 31 January but closed again on 2 February as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.? Remote education is challenging because some communication services still need repairs.? The tsunami damaged some classrooms, and COVID-19 movement restrictions and possible extreme weather conditions will likely delay reconstruction.? The health system in Tonga is already stretched; the volcanic eruption and tsunami damaged some healthcare centres, and others serve as evacuation centres.? A COVID-19 outbreak resulting in increased hospital admissions will likely overburden healthcare facilities.

 

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KEY PRIORITIES

03/03/2022

WASH: Around 50,000 people need access to safe drinking water. Water sources in Tonga have been contaminated by volcanic ash, which can contain heavy metals like copper, cadmium, and arsenic. Sea water that has landed on the island after the tsunami also disrupted water supplies. Mobile water treatment facilities are needed to provide safe drinking water for households.?

Food and Livelihoods: An estimated 60,000 people have been affected by damage to crops, livestock, and fisheries. Local fresh fish is among the main sources of food for households in Tonga. About 200 boats, which are important for fishing and generating income, were damaged. Food rations are one of the most urgent needs for households affected by the eruption and the tsunami.?

Shelter: The most shelter needs are reported in Mango and Fonoifua islands: all houses have been destroyed on Mango Island, and only two houses remained on Fonoifua. Temporary tarpaulin shelters are needed to host the affected households. Currently, most of the displaced people are staying with relatives, while others are in temporary shelters.?

Health: There are increasing health concerns, as affected people are likely exposed to breathing volcanic ash or drinking contaminated water. Tonga has been declared a COVID-19-free country, but there is a risk of spreading the virus with aid deliveries arriving from other countries.?