The January 15 eruption of Tonga’s volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, killed at least three people and is estimated to have affected approximately 100,000 people. The eruption sent a plume of ash into the upper atmosphere and triggered a tsunami that destroyed homes on Tonga’s nearby islands.
According to the Unite Nations between 60 and 70 percent of people who rely on agriculture and livestock as a source of income have been impacted by this catastrophic event.
Teams are working to establish clean drinking-water supplies, to clear away the thick layer of ash that has blanketed everything, and to recover from the crop damage, estimated to equate to nearly $17 Million USD. At least three people have died in Tonga as a result of the eruption.
The crisis is being compounded by COVID-19, which started after relief ships arrived from other countries.
Tonga’s water supply was contaminated from a combination of ash from the volcanic eruption and salt water intrusion from the subsequent tsunami. Animals and crops have been killed and grazing land devastated.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated its concern about water safety and groundwater quality in the region and has advised people against drinking the acidic rainwater.
Several countries including Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA have delivered aid and financial support to Tonga, with one Australian naval ship reported to have delivered as much as 250, 000 litres of water.
The HMAS Adelaide, which has the capacity to generate electricity, houses a small hospital and can purify 70,000 litres of water a day.
Katie Greenwood, the Pacific Head of Delegation at the Red Cross said: "Securing access to safe drinking water is a critical immediate priority as there is a mounting risk of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.
“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense- especially for outer lying Islands. We are trying hard to establish contact with our colleagues at Tonga Red Cross and establish the scale and specific nature of the support they need.”
In the meantime, health officials are reporting rapidly spreading cases of COVID-19 throughout the country, with both fully vaccinated adults and children being affected.