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Money services restored in Tonga, clean-up efforts continue

A satellite image shows the Nomuka island before Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption, in Tonga, August 17, 2020. Satellite Image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

Tongans stood in line for limited money services that were restored on Saturday in the island’s capital, as the clean-up effort continued a week after a volcano explosion and tsunami.

The news: The government of Tonga has stated that drinking water is a top concern, and that a national emergency team has already provided 60,000 litres of water to locals. A desalination unit on board a New Zealand naval ship, capable of producing 70,000 litres per day, has begun taking seawater from Tonga’s harbour.

  • Residents who lost their houses on outlying islands will be evacuated to Tongatapu, the main island, due to water and food shortages.
  • Volcanic fallout on the ocean’s surface was causing damage to boats and making marine transport between the islands difficult, therefore domestic flights were cancelled.
  • With limited satellite and radio links, inter-island communications remain an acute difficulty. Ash fall and the tsunami had affected 84 per cent of the population.
A satellite image shows Mango islands after Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption, in Tonga, January 20, 2022. Satellite Image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

What’s going on: A Tongan man and a Tongan lady were buried earlier this week after the tsunami struck the distant Ha’apai islands. Three people have died, according to the official count. After the health centre on Nomuka Island was destroyed, a field hospital was established.

  • The resumption of international money transfer services, for a limited time on Saturday, was necessary for people to be able to buy critical commodities.
  • More Australian, New Zealand, and British naval boats are on their way to Tonga to bring relief. After two aircraft from Australia on Friday evening, two relief flights from Japan and New Zealand landed on Saturday carrying humanitarian supplies.
  • The Tongan government has enacted a rigorous COVID-19 policy, which states that everyone entering the nation, including humanitarian workers, must first endure a three-week isolation period. Pallets were held for 72 hours after arriving at the airport before being dispersed by Tongan officials, making aid delivery ineffective. On Thursday, a COVID-19 case among the crew forced one Australian plane to return to Brisbane mid-flight.
  • An aid delivery expected from China will be contact-free to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A satellite image shows the Nomuka island after Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption, in Tonga, January 20, 2022. Satellite Image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

What they’re saying: Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, told reporters in Canberra on Saturday that an Australian naval vessel, HMAS Adelaide, would arrive in Tonga on Wednesday with extra bulk water and a 40-bed field hospital.

  • According to him, Australia and New Zealand were coordinating an international aid effort with backing from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and the Tongan government had requested that aid be phased in so that the small airport was not overburdened.
  • The UN’s resident country coordination specialist, Sione Hufanga said that the organisation is aiding the government with relief efforts as more people seek food and other supplies at shelters.

What’s next: According to Refinitiv data on maritime movements, the Reliance, a repair ship slated to reconnect the underwater cable that connects Tonga to worldwide telecoms networks, left its mooring in Port Moresby and was anticipated in Tonga on Jan. 30.

  • The Tongan government claimed the vessel would arrive “in the next few days” to fix the fibre-optic line.
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