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OPINION

By ILIESA TORA

Nuku’alofa – January 5, 2023: 10am (Nuku’alofa Times): The Government of Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku was on track with their promises and work in 2022.

Following two major challenges locally and the effect of the Russia – Ukraine war globally Tonga managed to pull through in the end.

While COVID-19 locked the world since March 2020, the new government took their role at the end of 2021.

With hopes of hitting the ground and running in early 2022 the game plan changed when the Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on the afternoon of January 15, sending tsunami waves towards small isands in Ha’apai, off the coasts of Tongatapu, ‘Eua and some of the low-lying villages on the Tongatapu coastlines.

Atata Island…damaged

As darkness, brought about by the volcanic ashes that were thrown into the atmosphere, enveloped Tonga that Saturday afternoon many the world over had thought Tonga would have gone under water, not to be seen again.

But as the breaking Sunday sun broke out of the skies there were sighs of relief that the worst had gone by.

Then as the Kingdom struggled to assist survivors and all affected, the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded here in Nuku’alofa, forcing Government to yet again lock the country down and close all borders.

That forced the Ministry of Health to go on an all out effort to get everyone in Tonga vaccinated twice at least as a preventative measure.

Blacked out because the internet cables connecting Tonga to the rest of the world were destroyed by the eruption and tsunami, Tonga was pretty much left in the wilderness so to speak for at least three months.

Hon Hu’akavameiliku with the Chinese Ambassador in Tonga and donations of tractors

In the midst of all these fiasco, it was the steady leadership of Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku and the support of Cabinet plus the overwhelming resilient spirit of civil servants, partner civil societies and non government organisations that drove Tonga on despite all the challenges.

Aided by the funding and donations from donor agencies, partner governments, companies and members of the Tongan diaspora overseas, the Government kicked into action to meet the needs of all affected.

 

Response

Government led the response to both the January 15 event and the COVID-19 challenge.

Immediate assistance were given to all affected across the country.

Families and businesses were helped, with food packs, water, temporary shelters and rations for families and funding for businesses.

Governments from around the world brought in what they could, with Tongan diaspora members around the globe and friends aiding that with their own contributions.

As a token of assistance government waived fees and tax on containers of assistance brought in for the response efforts.

That meant government losing out on revenue for six months.

Utility costs such as power and water were also reduced to assist families.

The National Management Emergency Office under the Ministry of MEIDECC took on the lead role in coordinating efforts, working with all other government ministries and departments.

NGOs such as the Tonga Red Cross, Civil Society Forum of Tonga and MORDI Tonga came into play reaching out to the grassroots.

The Kubuna Fijian Community, along with the Chinese community, worked with their own governments and people to bring in support and assistance for their community members.

Christian church leaders united in leading prayers and thanksgiving services, with Government partnering through the Ministry of Internal Affairs to hold National Fasting and Prayer Services every month.

 

Recovery

The Recovery program for the HTHH disaster needed millions of dollars.

Into the fore came the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, partner countries and organisations.

Survivors needed homes rebuilt.

Islanders lost fishing boats, farms and water sources.

Government put together a detailed recovery plan that is still ongoing to this day.

Relocations have been made, moving communities from Mango, Atata and Kanukupolu to new homes, new environments.

Houses have been built in Sopu, Popua, Masilamea and ‘Eua.

Others are currently being built in Nomuka and Fonoifua.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku had promised that families will have homes before the end of 2022 to move into.

Despite the challenges in getting homes ready some families have already moved to their new homes, others are following suit.

2023 looks to be an interesting year, with so much yet to be done as government continues the work of rebuilding while at the same time developing so that Tongans can continue to feel safe and secure.

As is expected there are always those that criticize government and its plans or works.

But the reality is there has been so much done in the last 12 months, despite all the challenges.

 

 

 

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