UN on standby to assist tsunami-hit Tonga

The UN is on standby with teams and emergency supplies to assist Tonga, and the UN staff who are based in the tsunami-hit island nation are working to assist coordination and response efforts in the country, a senior official of the world body based in the Fijian capital city of Suva said.

In an interview with Xinhua news agency, Jonathan Veitch, acting UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, said that the UN will be discussing with the Tongan government requests they may have for specific assistance.

By the end of the week, it is expected that Tonga will issue a request to donors.

“The Tongan government has requested satellite bandwidth from the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and phone capability from New Zealand and other donor partners, so we are all working to meet these needs as a matter of urgency,” he said.

He added that Australia and New Zealand are supporting the UN with logistic support in this humanitarian response. Australia is working to support the clearance of ash, water supplies and communication while New Zealand is supporting strengthened UN communications with logistical support throughout this response.

The Unicef is also shipping 44 pallets of wash kits, recreation kits, jerry cans, buckets, among other items, to Tonga this Friday, he said.

As for the damages in Tonga, he said that so far a total of 84,000 people have been affected by the eruption and tsunami, 84 per cent of the entire population of the island nation.

In total, 100 houses have been damaged and 50 are completely destroyed, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known as assessment capabilities are limited, he said, adding: “In terms of the impact of the airborne ash, the entire Tongan population have been impacted by this.”

Veitch also pointed out that the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) in New Zealand has done modelling on the future volcanic activity in the region and the most likely scenario at this stage is for ongoing eruptions over the next several days to weeks, with ongoing tsunami risk to Tonga and neighbouring Pacific countries.

The official stressed that the UN will stand with the Tongan people and government during this difficult time.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which is about 65 km north of the Tongan capital city of Nuku’alofa, is part of the highly active Tonga-Kermadec Islands volcanic arc, a subduction zone extending from New Zealand north-northeast to Fiji.

Over the past decades, the volcano has erupted several times.

On January 14-15, the volcano erupted violently, causing serious damages and casualties.

The Tongan government announced on Wednesday that the island nation has been in a state of emergency from January 16 until February 13, this year.




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