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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Australia sends aid to tsunami-hit Tonga

Australia is sending a plane and a naval ship to deliver much-needed humanitarian and disaster relief aid to Tonga following the tsunami that hit the islands on Saturday.

HMAS Adelaide will take part in the relief effort by bringing in engineering and medical personnel and equipment, as well as helicopters to assist with the logistics and distribution of humanitarian aid, Foreign Secretary Maris Payne told 2GB on Tuesday.

It comes after an underwater volcanic eruption, which occurred about 65 km (40 miles) north of the capital Nuku’alofa, triggered a tsunami that flooded much of the island nation, causing extensive damage and three confirmed deaths.

On the main island of Tongatapu, about 100 houses were hit, with 50 completely destroyed, according to a United Nations report on Tuesday.

Also of concern are the islands of Mango and Fonoi, where reconnaissance aircraft have revealed significant damage to buildings, and on one island, Nomuka in particular, 41 out of 104 visible structures were damaged, all covered in ash.

The volcano has also covered the islands in ash that could make the water undrinkable, so Australian aid workers will be in the spotlight.

“We will make sure that funds for water purification are provided as part of our humanitarian assistance,” she said.

She also said that water could be delivered by plane, but not in large quantities, so making it possible to treat water on the ground is a priority. This will include the installation of desalination equipment to treat seawater.

Another problem is related to communications, as the main communication cable was severed during the eruption, making telephone and Internet services unreliable.

Cable repairs can take several weeks. Meanwhile, Payne said Australia is helping set up satellite communications in Tonga, but that is proving difficult due to lingering ash clouds.

Aid workers will also have to adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols as Tonga has remained virtually free of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and there are fears that an influx of humanitarian aid personnel could bring the virus to the island nation.

Payne said Tonga has a very strict and consistent approach to allowing outsiders into Tonga and the Australian government will work closely with its counterparts there to protect the island nation from COVID-19.

“We had support in Fiji, for example, we had support in Papua New Guinea and also in Vanuatu after the cyclone,” she said.

“We have done this successfully and I touch a tree every day because we know how difficult it is to deal with COVID, but successful in terms of ensuring that any defense personnel, any medical assistance personnel can participate in these countries and support them. COVID-free status, if that’s the case.”

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World Nation News Desk
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