Tonga eruption: Food and water shortage looms after supplies contaminated

bourbiza19 January 2022Last Update : 4 months ago
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Tonga eruption: Food and water shortage looms after supplies contaminated


Tonga is facing imminent water and food shortages after crops and drinking sources were inundated with salt water and ash from a devastating volcanic explosion which triggered a 50ft tsunami, aid agencies have warned.

Water which tens of thousands of people rely on to drink has been polluted, the Red Cross said today, as Tonga’s parliamentary speaker added that ‘all agriculture’ on the islands has also been destroyed.

Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated in grey ash. 

New Zealand and Australian aid flights are due to start landing at Tonga’s main airport starting Thursday as work to clear the runway of ash nears completion, with naval vessels due to bring water supplies by Friday.

But complicating efforts are Tonga’s insistence that any aid deliveries have to be ‘contactless’ due to the risk of Covid being brought to the region, which has so-far avoided getting caught up in the pandemic.

‘They really don’t want to exchange one disaster for another,’ said Katie Greenwood, head of delegation in the Pacific for the Red Cross. 

Elsewhere, it was revealed that a tsunami warning system failed in the wake of Saturday’s eruption, after an undersea internet cable was severed and cut all communication between the islands and with the outside world.

Pictures have emerged on social media showing the scale of the devastation in Tonga following the tsunami. The island nation is facing imminent water and food shortages after crops and drinking sources were inundated with salt water and ash from a devastating volcanic explosion which triggered a 50ft tsunami, aid agencies have warned

Pictures have emerged on social media showing the scale of the devastation in Tonga following the tsunami. The island nation is facing imminent water and food shortages after crops and drinking sources were inundated with salt water and ash from a devastating volcanic explosion which triggered a 50ft tsunami, aid agencies have warned

A man surveys the scene of devastation with debris strewn across the road in Tonga in the wake of the tsunami. Water which tens of thousands of people rely on to drink has been polluted, the Red Cross said today, as Tonga's parliamentary speaker added that 'all agriculture' on the islands has also been destroyed

A man surveys the scene of devastation with debris strewn across the road in Tonga in the wake of the tsunami. Water which tens of thousands of people rely on to drink has been polluted, the Red Cross said today, as Tonga’s parliamentary speaker added that ‘all agriculture’ on the islands has also been destroyed

Wasteland: The coastline of the tropical paradise has been flattened in some areas with palm trees and buildings swept away

Wasteland: The coastline of the tropical paradise has been flattened in some areas with palm trees and buildings swept away

As well as being pounded by a tsunami, the island was coated with a thick layer of volcanic dust

As well as being pounded by a tsunami, the island was coated with a thick layer of volcanic dust

Trees were torn down, cars crushed and houses swept away by the force of the tsunami. Pictures are slowly emerging on social media showing the scale of destruction

Trees were torn down, cars crushed and houses swept away by the force of the tsunami. Pictures are slowly emerging on social media showing the scale of destruction 

Wasteland: The normally lush and verdant waterfront was flattened by the tsunami which struck after a massive volcanic eruption

Wasteland: The normally lush and verdant waterfront was flattened by the tsunami which struck after a massive volcanic eruption 

Pictured: Trees uprooted by the force of the tsunami that hit Tonga The undersea telecommunications cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world that was damaged by a volcano eruption will take at least a month to fix, its owner said on Wednesday, with the delay likely hampering disaster recovery efforts

Pictured: Trees uprooted by the force of the tsunami that hit Tonga The undersea telecommunications cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world that was damaged by a volcano eruption will take at least a month to fix, its owner said on Wednesday, with the delay likely hampering disaster recovery efforts

Two New Zealand navy vessels will arrive in Tonga on Friday carrying critical water supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami and largely cut off from the outside world

Two New Zealand navy vessels will arrive in Tonga on Friday carrying critical water supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami and largely cut off from the outside world

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Alistair Coldrick, a Briton who runs a tourist company on the Vava’u islands which sit around 160miles from the Hunga-Tonga volcano, told Sky News that no warning was sent despite the eruption triggering a 50ft tsunami which devastated some islands – destroying all buildings on one and leaving just two standing on another.

Despite the communication blackout, he said most people who heard the eruption – which he compared to ‘a bomb’ going off – did start heading for high ground because they knew ‘something catastrophic had happened.’

He said people in Vava’u have been living in ‘fearful limbo’ since the eruption because there has been no contact with the other islands, meaning no updates on the extent of the damage or number of people killed.

SubCom, the American company which manages the undersea cable from Fiji to Tonga, has warned that it will take ‘at least’ four weeks for the line to be repaired. 

During that time updates from the islands to the outside world are likely to be sparse, with the Tongan government sending its first dispatch just yesterday – describing the disaster as ‘unprecedented’ and saying damage to some of its smaller, outlying islands is severe.

The brief statement said that at least three people have been killed and ‘a number’ injured, though stressed that information-gathering is still at a preliminary stage and more-detailed assessments are underway.

It revealed the worst-hit islands are Mango, where every building has been flattened, and Fonoifua, where just two structures remain standing. Evacuations of both islands are underway.

Nomuka island has also sustained heavy damage and is being evacuated, the update said, while adding that western areas of the two main islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua have been hard-hit.

Hundreds of homes in Tonga's smaller outer islands have been destroyed, with at least three dead, after Saturday's huge eruption triggered tsunami waves that rolled over the islands, home to 105,000 people

Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed, with at least three dead, after Saturday’s huge eruption triggered tsunami waves that rolled over the islands, home to 105,000 people

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The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga had confirmed that salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were polluting the drinking water of tens of thousands of people.

The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga had confirmed that salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were polluting the drinking water of tens of thousands of people.

Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated in grey ash

Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated in grey ash

Ms Greenwood was on board a Red Cross ship that toured Mango, Fonoifua and Nomuka on Tuesday, warning that all three have ‘suffered devastating consequences’ as a result of being hit by the tsunami.

‘Securing access to safe drinking water is a critical immediate priority … as there is a mounting risk of diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea,’ she added.

At the same time, Fatafehi Fakafanua – a Tongan politician, parliamentary speaker and Lord of the Realm – told the Pacific News Network that ‘all agriculture’ on the islands has been destroyed. 

‘On top of the water that we need in Tonga, it seems that we’ll be facing a food shortage,’ he said

New Zealand’s foreign ministry said Tonga had approved the arrival of its ships, the Aotearoa and the Wellington, in the COVID-free nation.

Simon Griffiths, captain of the Aotearoa, said his ship was carrying 250,000 litres of water, and had the capacity to produce another 70,000 litres a day, along with other supplies.

‘For the people of Tonga, we’re heading their way now with a whole lot of water,’ Griffiths said in a statement. 

The Polynesian archipelago of 176 islands, 36 of them inhabited, has a population of about 105,000. Its Fua’amotu International Airport was not damaged by the tsunami but it was covered in ash, which has to be cleared manually.

Aid flights from New Zealand and Australia could begin on Thursday, a Tongan official said, depending on the clear-up.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said two Hercules aircraft were ready to go with humanitarian supplies and telecommunications equipment ‘as soon as conditions allow’.

‘HMAS Adelaide is also preparing to depart from Brisbane with water purification equipment and additional humanitarian supplies,’ Morrison said on Facebook after he spoke with Tonga’s prime minister, Siaosi Sovaleni.

Pictured: A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022

Pictured: A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022

The eruption at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022 is seen in a video gran showing the huge plume of ash and steam rising from the ocean

The eruption at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022 is seen in a video gran showing the huge plume of ash and steam rising from the ocean

New Zealand and Australian air force planes have circled Tonga, as the true scale of devastation caused to the islands slowly emerges. Pictured above is one of the smaller islands, which appears grey because it is blanketed in ash

New Zealand and Australian air force planes have circled Tonga, as the true scale of devastation caused to the islands slowly emerges. Pictured above is one of the smaller islands, which appears grey because it is blanketed in ash

An image taken from a military reconnaissance plane shows a Tongan village inundated with ash, while the beach shows signs of water damage where tsunami waves washed ashore following a huge volcanic eruption at the weekend

An image taken from a military reconnaissance plane shows a Tongan village inundated with ash, while the beach shows signs of water damage where tsunami waves washed ashore following a huge volcanic eruption at the weekend

As well as emergency supplies, Australia and New Zealand have promised immediate financial assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development approved $100,000 in immediate assistance.

The Asian Development Bank was discussing with Tonga whether it would declare a state of emergency to draw on a $10-million disaster funding facility, senior bank official Emma Veve told Reuters.

Other countries and agencies, including the United Nations, are drawing up plans to help. China will send help, including water and food, when the airport opened, a spokesperson of its foreign ministry said.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday evening with a blast heard 1,430 miles away in New Zealand which sent tsunami waves rippling across the Pacific Ocean.

James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the force of the eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of five to 10 megatons of TNT, or more than 500 times that of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War Two.

Waves reaching up to 50ft hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.

Residents of Tongatapu were being moved to evacuation centres as 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. New Zealand said power had been restored and Tongan authorities were distributing relief supplies.

But the country is largely offline since the volcano damaged the sole undersea fibre-optic communication cable and it would probably take a month or more to fix, its owner said.

A specialist ship should embark from Port Moresby on a repair voyage on the weekend, said Samiuela Fonua, chairman of cable owner Tonga Cable Ltd, but with up to nine days sailing to collect equipment in Samoa, he said it would be ‘lucky’ if the job was done in a month.

International mobile phone network provider Digicel has established a 2G connection using a satellite dish, the New Zealand foreign ministry said, but it is patchy and amounts to about 10% of usual capacity.

Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated in grey ash.

The United Nations and aid agencies were preparing relief flights to Tonga but without personnel who disembark, so to avoid introducing the coronavirus, said Fiji-based U.N. co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch.

Tonga is one of the few countries free of COVID-19 and an outbreak there would disastrous, he added.



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