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Tonga rebuilding following Gita destruction

29 March 2018

Tonga is pulling together to rebuild following the devastation caused by tropical cyclone Gita that hit in mid-February 2018. Bilal Anwar, general manager of the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CFAH), is currently visiting the capital Nuku’alofa to finalize the details of technical assistance for the island and shares his thoughts on the scale of reconstruction required.

Drive from the airport to the main island of Tongatapu, one still cannot ignore the traces of destruction and damage caused by the devastating tropical cyclone Gita hit the island last month.

Gita slammed on to the south coast of the main island smashing houses and government buildings and churches, tearing apart the essential infrastructure and levelling crops and fruit trees vital to the livelihood and economy of the island.

The CFAH technical assistance programme has been designed to assist in building the human and institutional capacity to address the threats of climate change, and facilitate the flow of climate finance for building resilience to natural disasters.

The CFAH appointed National Climate Finance adviser will assume responsibilities in Tonga early next month.      

The Kingdom of Tonga, situated in the South of Pacific, is made up of 176 islands, though only 36 are inhabited. Geographical location and surrounding atmospheric conditions makes the islands badly exposed to a number of climatic challenges. Frequency and intensity of climatically induced natural disasters and extreme weather events are unprecedentedly increasing. Intensity scale of the cyclone Gita was found to be unmatched by the meteorological agencies for the region in the last 60 years.

Cyclones are not the only climate challenge the island nation facing. Sea level rise is a constant threat adversely affecting all sectors of the economy particularly the agriculture. Erosion of agriculture land to the sea invasion and erratic weather changes have severely disrupted the cultivation practices resulting into low yields and pro-longed droughts. Availability of water for agriculture and domestic usage is also likely to become a serious issue along with adverse impacts on fisheries.   

The government is fully aware of the current and future threats of the climate change and recognizes it as its top priority. A number of measures are already being undertaken by the government agencies towards the protection of soil resources, managing disaster risks and making the gradual shift towards climate resilient agriculture practices. The government recognizes that the issue of climate change need to be addressed in a more coherent and integrated manner across all key sectors of the economy. Cross-cutting projects and programs should be devised and implemented with a long-term perspective. Hence, the need for mainstreaming the climate change into all sectors of the economy.  

However, lack of human capacity and availability of adequate financial resources have considerably constrained the efforts of the government agencies. Actions and efforts already undertaken by the Government are beyond its fiscal capacity, hence, climate finance is seen to be playing an instrumental role in fight against climate change.

The overarching scope of the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub technical assistance for Tonga is to build the capacity of the National Climate Change Division with an aim to develop a programmatic and result oriented approach for enhancing the flow of climate finance. 

It is expected that at the end of the project, the country will have a strategic framework for climate finance, with a pipeline of projects and resource mobilization plan for the implementation of projects supporting the Nationally Determined Contributions.    

The Ministry of Meteorology Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change, and Communications (MEIDECC) and other government partners ensured their full support to the CFAH deployed National Climate Finance Adviser and appreciate the efforts by the Commonwealth in supporting the Island.

Read the Secretary-General's statement on Cyclone Gita   

Find out more about the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub