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  • U.S. and Pacific partners aid Tonga after disaster

    Published on February 8, 2022

    By Leigh Hartman


    A Sea Hawk helicopter prepares for takeoff from the USS Sampson, January 23, in support of relief efforts in Tonga. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st class Zackery Harmeyer)

    The United States is working with international partners to supply clean water, food and other emergency aid to the people of Tonga after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.

    The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga in mid-January, blanketing islands with ash and triggering tsunami waves nearly 15 meters high. The natural disaster destroyed homes and infrastructure and affected nearly 84% of the population in Tonga.

    The United States is providing $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance. This funding is in addition to $100,000 in assistance provided immediately after the January 15 eruption. Longstanding programs in Tonga also have responded to the disaster.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with local partners to address access to clean water, health, food security, agriculture, livestock and shelter needs in the most-affected communities.

    “The United States stands prepared to provide support to our Pacific neighbors and contribute to a resilient Indo-Pacific region,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said January 26.

    Destroyed beach resorts on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, seen January 16 after a volcanic eruption (© Mary Lyn Fonua/Matangi Tonga/AFP/Getty Images)

    The U.S. government support is being delivered in partnership with the Tonga Red Cross Society through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, U.N. World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services and the Atlanta-based international aid group CARE, among other partners.

    The United States is also coordinating relief assistance with Australia, Fiji, France, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

    USAID partners are providing emergency telecommunications support after the disaster severed underwater communications cables that connected Tonga’s islands, causing communications blackouts.

    With support from USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is deploying satellite equipment to enable text messaging in areas with limited connectivity to disseminate alerts and other information.

    Additionally, the USAID–U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Disaster Assistance Program is shipping volcano monitoring equipment to monitor the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in the coming weeks. The equipment includes devices to detect volcano-related earthquakes and explosions.

    The U.S. Department of Defense has deployed the USS Sampson (DDG 102) to Tongan waters to assist the relief effort. The U.S. Navy ship, which provided humanitarian assistance after the earthquake in Kaikōura, New Zealand, in 2016, is currently supporting the Australian Defence Force’s relief efforts.

    World Central Kitchen, a Washington-based charity that serves meals to people affected by natural disasters, announced January 26 that it would send 4,000, 20-kilogram food kits to Tonga.

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