The Commonwealth Secretary-General has expressed her sincere condolences for the lives lost in the double disaster that has engulfed the Pacific Island kingdom of Tonga, while reaffirming the Commonwealth’s willingness to offer maximum assistance.
On Saturday 15 January, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai Volcano erupted in what scientists say was a once-in-a-millennium event, triggering tsunami waves that demolished large parts of the coastlines of the Tongatapu, Ha’apai and ‘Eua islands.
Devastation from the volcano and tsunami
According to a press statement by the Tongan Government, three people have been confirmed dead, while water supply across the country has been severely compromised by the volcanic ashfall. Many homes have been devastated, alongside damage to infrastructure such as ports, seawalls and roads.
Communications between islands and outside of the country are down, with authorities actively working with communications operators to restore internet and telephony services.
Statement by the Secretary-General
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said:
“I wish to convey by deepest condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost in this catastrophe. The strength of the Commonwealth has always been in our solidarity especially in difficult times like this. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Royal Family, the Government, and the people of Tonga. We are confident that the resilience and determination of Tongan people will carry them through this catastrophe.
“The Commonwealth is committed to working with the Government of Tonga to identify priority needs and concerns and provide appropriate support where possible.”
Commonwealth member countries have been quick to respond to the disaster with essential assistance – both Australia and New Zealand have deployed supply-laden navy ships to the country, while the Royal New Zealand Air Force has conducted an initial reconnaissance mission to assess the damage.
The Commonwealth Secretariat has also initiated a ‘rapid response’ team to look at areas of potential support. This may include actions beyond the immediate crisis, such as long-term strategies to manage disaster risk through platforms such as the Commonwealth Disaster Risk Finance Portal and the IPP Commonsensing Project, which uses satellite data to assess disaster impacts and risks for better decision-making.
Image courtesy of the New Zealand Defence Force
- Josephine Latu-Sanft Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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