Imagine a natural disaster of such scale, that 79% of a country’s population is affected. This can take the form of losing your home, not having access to basic resources like safe drinking water, or through facing trauma.
Unfortunately for the people of Tonga, that has been their exact reality they’ve had to face when the nearby volcano Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai violently erupted on 15 January 2022 and sent a tsunami crashing towards land. 85,000 people were affected by the aftermath. 35,600 of whom were children.
Water supplies were contaminated by ash. Houses were destroyed. Food crops were severely damaged. And communications were cut off.
Children – who were forced awake that night – had to flee their homes in the dark to get to higher ground. None have experienced anything like this in their lifetimes, as this was the largest eruption in 30 years.
“I felt scared. I cried as I was running, and I was trying to hold onto my mom,” says 11-year old Moui-He-Kelesi. “When we returned home, our fence was destroyed, the dishes in the house were all broken, and there were no clothes because the tsunami had taken it all.”
An Immediate Response
Thanks to UNICEF’s regular monthly donors, we were able to stockpile emergency supplies - such as clean drinking water and basic hygiene kits - that were ready to go even before this emergency struck. So that once news had hit of the disaster, we could immediately pack 10 metric tonnes of supplies and get them shipped within 48 hours – and with more on the way.
The amazing outpouring of generosity from kiwis who wanted to support Tonga also allowed us to keep the emergency response going – right through to recovery stages. Even now, 6 months after the initial disaster, UNICEF has continued to deliver what’s needed so that children and families in Tonga can start to rebuild their lives.
Here’s a more detailed look at how our donors have been able to help Tonga
UNICEF has delivered more than 77 tonnes of emergency supplies to support families recovering from the disaster and COVID-19, such as medical equipment, school supplies, WASH kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and vaccines.
Amid COVID-19 restrictions in Tonga, supplies from UNICEF have been delivered to a beach on Nomuka Island through the Red Cross.
Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH)
The community is getting water treatment kits, household kits, school kits, water pumps, buckets, and collapsible water containers.
Through improved water, sanitation, and hygiene, our donors have helped us reach 60,000 people in need.
Supported the COVID-19 vaccination rollout for adults and kids over 5.
Trained 35 healthcare workers to guide community health outreach.
Provided nutrition supplies to families and children.
617 children and 391 parents were provided psychosocial support in Tongatapu, Eua, and Ha‘apai.
Trained counsellors provided psychosocial support for families during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Education in Emergencies (EiE) supplies provided to support children to return to school.
Support to reopening of schools safely following the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown.
Information & Awareness
Radio shows on volcanic ash, food safety, water tank cleaning, hand-washing, and supporting vulnerable families. These messages reached more than 57,000 people.
Text messages promoting positive behaviours and brochures were sent out.
Recovery isn’t just about rebuilding
Work still needs to be done so that every child in Tonga is able to go back to living out their childhoods. No only that, but their communities will also be well supported to build up their resilience – so that when emergencies happen, they have the resources and systems in place to help them bounce back.
In the event of another natural disaster, kids should have access to safe drinking water. They should receive prompt psychosocial support, and they should be able to get back to their education. It’s the more long-term solutions - that UNICEF is well-equipped to help with – that will enable all of this in the future.
We’d love to take this moment to appreciate just how amazing kiwis have been in helping our Pacific neighbours. None of this would have been possible without our donors, and we’re grateful that they’ve chosen to put their trust in UNICEF to deliver life-saving support for Tongan children and their families.