Some money services reopen in Tonga, drinking water the priority
: Tongans lined up for limited cash services which were restored in the Pacific island capital on Saturday as cleanup continued a week after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Tonga’s government said clean water was the priority and a national emergency team had already distributed 60,000 liters of water to residents. A desalination plant on a New Zealand navy vessel which arrived on Friday, capable of producing 70,000 liters a day, has started drawing seawater from the port in Tonga.
Residents who had lost their homes on the outer islands when a tsunami of up to 15 meters slammed into the South Pacific archipelago would be relocated to the main island, Tongatapu, due to water shortages and of food, the Tongan Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement distributed to Tongan officials.
Volcanic fallout on the ocean surface was damaging boats and making it difficult to travel between islands by sea, and domestic flights were suspended, he said.
The ashfall and tsunami affected 84% of the population, and inter-island communications remain an “acute challenge” with limited satellite and radio links, he said.
Burials were held earlier in the week for a Tongan man and woman who died when the tsunami hit the outer islands of Ha’apai. The official death toll is three. A field hospital was set up on Nomuka Island after the health center there was washed away.
Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau, the coordinator of Tonga’s parliament reconstruction project, said the restoration of international money transfer services, for limited hours on Saturday, was important for people to be able to buy essential goods.
“Tongians have demonstrated their resilience in this calamity and will get back on their feet,” he said, speaking to Reuters from Tongatapu.
Other Australian, New Zealand and British navy ships are on their way to Tonga to help. Two aid flights, from Japan and New Zealand, arrived on Saturday with humanitarian supplies, following two flights from Australia on Friday evening.
The Tongan government has a strict COVID-19 policy in place which means people, including aid workers, cannot enter the country unless they have undergone a three-week period of isolation. Aid deliveries were made contactless, with pallets quarantined for 72 hours after arrival at the airport before being distributed by Tongan authorities. An Australian plane returned to Brisbane in full flight on Thursday after being informed of a case of COVID-19 among the crew.
An expected aid delivery from China would also be contactless to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the government said.
Taumoefolau said Tonga had done a good job of avoiding a pandemic outbreak, registering only one case so far, and border policy would not prevent aid from reaching communities.
“It is possible to get aid in without compromising efforts to keep COVID out,” he said.
An Australian navy ship, the HMAS Adelaide, was due to arrive in Tonga on Wednesday with more bulk water and a 40-bed field hospital, Australia’s International Development and Pacific Minister Zed Seselja told reporters on Saturday. in Canberra.
The Tongan government was doing “amazing work on the ground”, he said.
Australia and New Zealand were coordinating an international aid effort with support from Britain, France, the United States, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, he said. , and the Tongan government had requested that support be paced so that the small airport was not overwhelmed.
Asked by reporters about China’s aid program in the Pacific, Seselja said, “We welcome offers of support from anyone, including the Chinese government.”
Sione Hufanga, the resident UN country coordination specialist, told Reuters the agency was assisting the government in relief operations as more people arrived at shelters and sought food and other supplies.
“Almost every crop in the country has been badly affected. Farmers have lost their homes and their livelihoods,” he told Reuters by phone from Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. “The country will be heavily dependent on food aid for some time.”
The agricultural sector contributed nearly 14% of Tonga’s GDP in 2015/16 and accounted for over 65% of exports.
The Tongan government said it was “deeply grateful to the international community” for its assistance, which included funding of $8 million from the World Bank and $10 million from the Asian Development Bank.
Reliance, a repair vessel due to reconnect the undersea cable that connects Tonga to international telecommunications networks, left its Port Moresby mooring and was due in Tonga on January 30, according to Refinitiv maritime movement data.
The ship was due to arrive “in the next few days” to repair the fiber optic cable, the Tongan government said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)