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Tonga: International aid efforts ramp up for tsunami-hit nation

Image source, NZ DEFENCE FORCE

Aid is trickling into Tonga from around the world, as more governments deploy ships and flights to the country following Saturday’s volcanic eruption.

The underwater explosion triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific, killing at least three people in Tonga.

It caused significant damage to the archipelago and crippled communications.

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A New Zealand vessel which is expected to arrive on Friday is the first major supply ship.

The captain of the HMNZS Aotearoa had earlier told news site Reuters that the ship was carrying 250,000 litres of water, along with other supplies. The UN says clean water supplies are the top priority for the Pacific nation.

Australia has deployed its largest ship, the HMAS Adelaide, which set off for Tonga on Friday. The vessel can carry helicopters which can be deployed from the ship to bring supplies to Tonga’s smaller outer islands. That vessel is due to arrive mid-next week.

The UK also announced on Friday it was also redeploying its HMS Spey to the Tongan response and had sent aid supplies ahead with the Australian ship.

“The UK will work closely with Australia and New Zealand to assist the recovery effort in Tonga and stands ready to support our long-standing Commonwealth partner,” said UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace.

Australian Defence Forces members unload humanitarian assistance and engineering equipment from an aircraft at Fua"amotu International Airport

Image source, Reuters

The international response was held up in the first days after the explosion as a blanket of volcanic ash over the island posed a significant barrier.

Volunteers spent days manually clearing ash from the runway on Tongatapu main island, to allow emergency aid planes to land.

The first two flights from New Zealand and Australia landed on Thursday, bearing pallets of drinking water, desalination tools, hygiene, shelter and medical kits as well as telecommunications equipment.

Efforts have been made for contact-less delivery, as Tongan authorities have expressed concern about Covid being imported into the virus-free nation.

The naval carriers are expected to bring far bigger quantities of aid.

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Tonga’s deadly tsunami

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The aid is arriving as communications with Tonga are slowly being restored. Up until Wednesday, the Tongan diaspora around the world had largely been unable to contact relatives at home.

Aid politics

New Zealand and Australia, Tonga’s nearest Western neighbours and traditional aid providers, have spearheaded the response, though countries like China and Japan are also sending aid.

Japan deployed one of its own military planes on Thursday to deliver supplies.

Japanese military officers stand in ceremony in front of a C-130 Hercules carrying relief supplies to be deployed to Tonga

Image source, Reuters

China has also pledged $100,000 (£73,000) in relief cash assistance and a batch of emergency supplies.

“Going forward, China will continue to provide assistance in cash and supplies based on the situation and Tonga’s needs,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Beijing on Thursday.

Tonga is one of the key Pacific island nations, in an increasingly-contested region which has seen an influx of loans and donations from China.

China is now the second-largest donor of foreign aid in the region behind Australia, analysts say.

Earlier this week, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd tweeted: “Australia must be the first and foremost giving assistance to Tonga. Otherwise China will be there in spades.”

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