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Images coming from Tonga stunned the world two weeks ago. The massive undersea volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted on January 15 (local time) just 30 kilometers away from Tonga’s archipelago. The event covered the small nation in the Pacific in ash and created a tsunami that swept over the lower sections of the islands. While there were three reported deaths, the difficulty that emerged in the aftermath of the disaster was in getting aid to those affected. 

The Impact and Why Help Is So Difficult

Prior to the eruption, Tonga had zero cases of COVID-19 due to strict protocols. Any international aid workers coming to the islands risked bringing COVID-19 with them and causing far more harm than good. One aid flight from Australia had to turn back when someone on board tested positive. Additionally, the eruption severed the main undersea cable that provides Tonga with its Internet connection. For days, the only circulated images of Tonga were taken from planes sent by Australia and New Zealand to survey the damage. There was no way to contact Tongans about their needs or even know the extent of the damage.

Stock image of a volcanic eruption.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

The international community, especially Tongans living in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, finally connected to those on the ground via satellite. Several key needs emerged. The most crucial need was clean drinking water as ash contaminated the main supply. Buildings were also swept away in the tsunami. The damage led to loss of income and shelter for residents. Those watching the disaster unfolding from afar looking for a way to help found limited options. 

How to Help

Once more was known about the scale of the destruction and the specific needs in Tonga, a number of resources emerged for those who wanted to contribute to disaster relief. 

  • Care Australia: Care Australia pledged not to send any aid workers to Tonga in order to limit COVID-19 spread. They have connections to local partners and will pass the donations to them. 
  • Australian Red Cross: The Australian Red Cross delivers supplies to Tonga via its International Disaster Fund. Supply handoffs designed to limit COVID-19 transmission. 
  • Save the Children New Zealand: Save the Children launched a special fund for Tonga to help establish distance learning for children whose schools are destroyed. They are also providing school supplies. 
  • Oxfam: Oxfam Aotearoa does not have a specific fund for Tonga. However, they are pledging a percentage of their donations to their community partners. This includes Tonga National Youth Council, Tonga National Council of Churches, Ma’a Fafine mo e Famili Inc., Tonga Leitis Association, and Civil Society Forum of Tonga. 
  • Unicef: Unicef created a dedicated Tonga relief fund, providing clean water and sanitation supplies. 

Our hearts go out to all those affected by the emergency. We encourage you to seek out ways to help those in need. If you are in the area and have an idea of how to help, apply for an act here