Media releases and reports

Recovering from the volcanic eruption and tsunami in the Pacific Island nation of Tonga

Thousands of children have been affected by the disaster. UNICEF is working with partners to provide urgent support.

26 January 2022

On Saturday 15 January, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai underwater volcano in Tonga erupted violently, sending a plume of ash 20 kilometres above the volcano.

The eruption – one of the biggest in Tonga in the last 30 years – triggered a 1.2-metre-high tsunami that crashed ashore in coastal areas of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

 UNICEF/UN0581175/Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP
UNICEF/UN0581175/Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP

Communities, roads, and airports were blanketed in thick ash, and flood waters damaged infrastructure, homes and schools. Power and communication channels were disrupted for days.

UNICEF has shipped 10 metric tons of emergency supplies to Tonga to support the most vulnerable children and families. Supplies include water, sanitation, and hygiene kits, jerry cans and buckets, and recreational kits for children.

©UNICEF/UN0581166
©UNICEF/UN0581166

On 15 January 2022, a satellite image captures the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano eruption, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. Hunga Ha'apai is located about 65 km from Tonga's capital city Nuku'alofa.

The island first formed between December 2014 and January 2015, when an underwater volcano explosively erupted. Since its formation, the island has erupted intermittently.

UNICEF/UN0581386/EU Copernicus Sentinel-2
UNICEF/UN0581386/EU Copernicus Sentinel-2

Satellite images captured by Copernicus Sentinel-2 show the impact of the volcanic eruption and tsunami. The image on the left is taken on 18 December 2021 and the right shows the destruction on 17 January 2022.

UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm
UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm

“After [the tsunami passed] we came down and I saw that the waves damaged the house. Big trees and branches were pushed inside the yard.” Semisi, 15, was in a neighbouring village preparing for Sunday school when he first heard the eruption.

UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm
UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm

A damaged primary school which faces the foreshore near the capital Nuku’alofa.

Volcanic ash has damaged school buildings and water supply. The school year in Tonga was originally planned for 31 January. 

UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm
UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm

Eleven-year-old Moui-He-Kelesi, left, and his older sister Paea-He-Lotu, 15, clean outside their home. “I felt scared. I cried as I was running, and I was trying to hold onto my mom,” he says, following the eruption. As the family drove to get to higher ground, thick ash rained down on Tongatapu.

“We kept having to stop so my brother could wipe the ash off the windscreen. 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.”

UNICEF/UN0581175/Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP
UNICEF/UN0581175/Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP

Volcanic ash covers the street by the old prime minister’s office in Tonga's capital Nuku’alofa. Most of the country is covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash which has contaminated water and food supplies. Ash also poses a major threat to air quality.

UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm
UNICEFPacific/2022/Wolfgramm

Sione, 18, in front of his damaged home. Few families in Tonga were left untouched by the destruction. An estimated 85,000 people, including 36,500 children, are affected.

UNICEF/UN0579398/Taufatofua
UNICEF/UN0579398/Taufatofua

UNICEF Pacific Ambassador Pita Taufatofua with pre-positioned emergency supplies at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warehouse in Brisbane, Australia. UNICEF has shipped 44 pallets of supplies containing 1,000 water, sanitation, and hygiene kits, water testing kits, jerry cans and buckets and recreational kits for children to support psycho-social recovery.

UNICEF/UN0580716/Shotunde
UNICEF/UN0580716/Shotunde

UNICEF supplies are loaded onto the HMAS Adelaide at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warehouse in Brisbane, Australia.