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Tonga: Relief efforts increasing, more aid arriving

A general view shows damaged buildings following volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tongatapu, Tonga, January 16, 2022 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 16, 2022. Malau Media/via REUTERS

The Red Cross said on Wednesday that humanitarian relief to Tonga is ramping up after the airport was cleansed of ash, making it safe for planes to arrive, days after a volcano explosion and tsunami wreaked havoc on the South Pacific archipelago.

The news: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) claimed that with the additional supplies, its personnel and volunteers are increasing drinking water deliveries and erecting shelters across the country’s numerous islands.

  • “This disaster has shaken the people of Tonga like nothing we have seen in our lifetime,” Sione Taumoefolau, secretary general of Tonga Red Cross, said in a statement. “The tsunami has wiped out homes and villages, but we are already rebuilding amid the ashes.”
  • The United States is giving an additional $2.5 million in humanitarian relief, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson arrived this week as part of a global effort to support the efforts in Tonga.

What they’re saying: On Wednesday, the Australian government announced an additional A$2 million ($1.43 million) in humanitarian relief to Tonga, bringing Australia’s total commitment to $3 million.

  • It also stated that Australia is increasing its assistance, particularly by restoring electricity and communications, as well as storing and delivering humanitarian materials.

After roughly two dozen cases of COVID-19 were discovered among the crew, an Australian warship arrived in coronavirus-free Tonga on Wednesday evening, bringing aid without human contact.

  • “The ship is undertaking an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies,” Austarlia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said in a joint statement.
  • Tonga’s Health Minister Saia Piukala told Broadcom Broadcasting radio that 29 positive instances had been reported onboard the HMAS Adelaide, but that all of the positive troops were asymptomatic.
  • “Australians from the ship will unload their cargoes and sail from port,” Piukala said. 

On the ground in Tonga, the United Nations, Red Cross, and other aid groups have warned that a COVID-19 breakout would be disastrous at this time.

  • “There is an urgent need for people to have access to safe water sources in the days and weeks to come,” Taumoefolau said.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano generated a tsunami that damaged villages and resorts while also disrupting communications for the country’s 105,000 residents. Authorities have reported the deaths of three people.

($1 = 1.3965 Australian dollars)

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