Asia Pacific

Tonga volcano aftermath: UN aids islanders facing long-term challenges

The many families on the island nation of Tonga who rely solely on the ocean for their food and income, are struggling to recover from last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami.

The natural disasters were a major blow to 74-year-old Fangupō Lātū, from the village of Pātangata. His fishing boat was sunk and destroyed during the tsunami, leaving him unable to make a living. 

However, he is also worried about how the crisis is affecting his community. “My village’s main source of income and livelihood come from the ocean, but the waves damaged the majority of our boats” he says.

“We sold seafood daily, but now there’s none. Anyone whose boat was not destroyed no long goes fishing, due to toxicity warnings”, he adds, referring to fears associated with the ash fall that blanketed Tonga’s islands following the volcanic eruption.

UN Tonga/Sia AngilauFangupō Lātū at his Pātangata home.

Food supply concerns

Recovery and food security are the main medium and long-term challenges facing Tonga. As clean-up efforts continue, schools will reopen in Tonga but, when they do, many families will not be able to afford to pay required fees.

Given these specific needs, the United Nations teams on the ground in Tonga and Fiji are working with the Tongan Government, Ministry of Fisheries, and National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) to ensure the needs of people like Mr. Lātū are met. 

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests, are identifying how and where they can assist, to accurately address Tonga’s additional food requirements, and ensure a coordinated response.

A total of around $354,000 in funding from the Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA) has been allocated to Tonga, through the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Additionally, and in the immediate aftermath, Tonga’s National Emergency Management Committee approved funding to support a decrease in the cost of deep sea fishing permits to five Tongan pa’anga (the local currency) per kilogram (USD$2.20 per kg), for a month.

© Konionia MafileoTonga’s volcanic eruption and tsunami highlights the vulnerability of small islands and developing States (SIDS).

Rehabilitating aquaculture

The rehabilitation of farming aquaculture is also underway in Tonga, especially for Mokohonu (sea cucumber) and Kanahe (fish), and the Ministry of Fisheries has implemented their Immediate Response Plan until the end of this month. 

This includes ensuring sufficient fish from safe sources (longline tuna and deep-water snapper fisheries) are available to the public, for consumption. The Fisheries Ministry is working closely with FAO to target priority areas for immediate support.

“We are gradually getting a clearer picture of the effects which this disaster has had on the vital fisheries and agricultural sectors on which so many Tongans depend – whether it’s in terms of damage to coral reefs or from the ash cover in parts of the islands,” notes FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Pacific, Ms. Xiangjun Yao.

“Under the One-UN approach, we are gearing up to provide support so that people can get back on their feet as quickly and safely as possible.” 


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