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The Event

On 15 January, a large eruption occurred in the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano. The eruption emitted a 5km wide plume of ash, steam and gas 20km above the volcano.

As a result of the eruption, a tsunami wave of 1.2 metres (about 4 feet) hit the coastline of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, causing damage to buildings and infrastructure. The main island of Tonga, Tongatapu, was covered with at least 2cm of volcanic ash from the ash cloud.

Needs assessments completed by Tonga Red Cross have indicated significant damage on the coast of Tongatapu (districts of Kolovai, Nukunuku and Kolomatu’a), the Ha’apai island group and parts of the west coast of ‘Eua. In these areas, houses and infrastructure were damaged and heavy ashfall from the volcanic eruption contaminated water sources and inundated roads.

Thanks to early warning systems, many of those in the areas hardest hit were evacuated prior to the tsunami. Families in the areas of Mango, Nomuka, Fonoifua, Lulunga, and Atata islands have been evacuated, and are staying with relatives or in evacuation centres.

  • Following the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga on 15 January, Tonga Red Cross continues to assess the needs of affected communities, provide immediate relief items, and support the clean-up of debris in some communities.
  • It’s clear longer term recovery support will be required. In the worst-hit areas – the western side of Tongatapu and the Ha’apai Islands – there has been significant damage to infrastructure and humanitarian needs remain high.
  • Australian Red Cross will continue to support the recovery needs through a new Tonga Recovery Appeal by partnering with the National Rugby League (NRL) and others from February 2022 to raise an additional $696,027.
  • Over 24 months (ending in January 2024), the Australian Red Cross Tonga Recovery Appeal will contribute to the IFRC Emergency Appeal that targets 17,000 people with livelihoods support, cash assistance, emergency shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and strengthening the capacity of Tonga Red Cross to respond to future disasters.
  • International relief supplies, including shelter kits, water purification tablets and tarpaulins have started to arrive in Tonga by sea and air. In order to prevent further spread of COVID- 19, items being handed over in a contactless manner.

Cases of COVID have been detected in Tonga, and following a two-day national lockdown on Wednesday 2 February, a further 14-day lockdown was instituted in Tongatapu and Vava’u. Some aspects of the response have been impacted, while others are continuing under strict controls.

Domestic cellular networks and electricity are starting to become operational in-country; international contact remains limited as repair work on undersea cables continues.

Red Cross Response

Prior to the tsunami, Tonga Red Cross supported the evacuation of communities to higher ground. They have supported government assessments on outer islands and distribution of prepositioned relief supplies to affected communities. This included things like shelter kits, tarps and non-food items like hygiene kits and buckets. They had enough relief stocks in country to support an initial 1200 families.

As of 2 February, Tonga Red Cross had distributed 163 tarpaulins, 244 kitchen sets, 235 hygiene kits, 600 blankets and 375 solar lanterns.

Australian Red Cross shipped further relief stocks on board Australian naval vessel HMAS Adelaide to bolster the Tonga Red cross response. This included shelter kits, solar lanterns, jerry cans, tarpaulins and mosquito nets to bolster Tonga Red Cross’ disaster response. The items arrived in Tonga on Thursday 27 January, and were quarantined. The items will be delivered to Tonga Red Cross by the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).

Australian Red Cross is supporting the Tonga Red Cross response through a coordinated emergency appeal. In the first phase, the focus will be on providing immediate, life-saving relief to the most affected areas, focusing on the most vulnerable communities. In the mid-term, the focus will be on the longer-term recovery of communities most impacted, following which programming will increase the long-term capacity and capability of Tonga Red Cross to respond to future disaster events.

Australian Red Cross has been working with Tonga Red Cross for several years as one of its priority country partners in the region. This work includes disaster preparedness and response including emergency stock management, volunteer training and community engagement. Prior to the disaster the Tonga Red Cross was a small team of 10 staff and 40 volunteers and it is important that the international support continues to be informed by a locally led response and appropriate to the needs and capacities on the ground.


All money raised as part of the Red Cross Tonga Recovery Appeal will support Tongans recover and rebuild. By donating, you will be supporting Tongans rebuild homes, access clean drinking water and get back on their feet.

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