Disasters & Accidents

2,000 people still displaced in Tonga, month after volcano eruption

Sydney, Australia, Feb 15 (EFE).- Some 2,000 people were still displaced on Tuesday, which marks a month since a powerful volcanic eruption and devastating tsunami struck the island nation of Tonga, the United Nations resident coordinator for the country, Sanaka Samarasinha said.

“We estimate that there are more than 2,000 people still displaced, many of them staying with relatives and friends,” Samarisinha said from Suva, the Fijian capital, in a virtual press conference with the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Australia and South Pacific, to which EFE belongs.

The top UN official in the region added that “water and sanitation has been a real challenge” in the island nation since water sources have been contaminated by volcanic ash and salt water.

“(The) people of Tonga are quite used to disasters of different types but, by all accounts, nobody’s ever seen or heard or experienced anything quite like,” he said.

“We still don’t know the real impact of this or the long term impact of this particular trauma,” he explained, adding that “concern and worry and anxiety levels remain very high” in Tonga in the middle of the cyclone season in the Pacific, where the impact of weather-related natural disasters is felt with greater force due to climate change.

Now Tonga faces the daunting task of reconstruction after the Jan. 15 eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, which covered Tonga in ash and triggered a devastating tsunami, followed by a Covid-19 outbreak with the arrival of aid.

The previously Covid-free country has now recorded some 170 infections.

The double catastrophe has caused damages of about $90.4 million, equivalent to 18.5 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, according to a World Bank report published on Monday.

Tongatapu, the principal island in the archipelago, was the worst affected by the volcanic eruption, one of the most powerful on record, while other less populated islands, such as Mango and Atata, suffered almost complete destruction.

Samarisinha stressed that the future damages of these disasters in fishing, tourism and in the lives of the Tongans, who are still facing communication challenges due to the rupture of an undersea telecommunications cable from Fiji that carries internet and phone communications in and out Tonga, have not yet been quantified.

The repair of the cable is expected to be completed by the end of the month, Samarisinha said.

The double catastrophe in Tonga caused three deaths and affected some 85,000 inhabitants of this archipelago, which has a population of just over 100,000. EFE


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