Home Web information WHO supports UN-wide response to volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga – Tonga

WHO supports UN-wide response to volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga – Tonga


The World Health Organization (WHO) is working in close coordination with other UN agencies and partners to support the response to the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga, including acting as a clearinghouse persistent telecommunications outages.

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted around 5:30 p.m. local time on January 15, spewing an ash plume believed to be nearly 20 km high. The eruption, which was the largest Tonga – and potentially the world – has faced in 30 years, could be heard as far away as Australia and New Zealand and triggered tsunami warnings across the country. Peaceful.

The Government of the Kingdom of Tonga responded quickly, including deploying a navy vessel to the Ha’api Islands carrying the WHO-trained Tonga Emergency Medical Assistance Team (TEMAT) to help treat the people who could have been injured. The government has advised the Tongan public to stay indoors, use masks if they go out and drink bottled water to avoid the consequences of the ash fall.

The UN has been working to support the government’s response from the time the eruption occurred, with WHO liaison officer for Tonga, Dr Yutaro Setoya, playing a key role in communicating between UN agencies and the government of Tonga, and between the UN and their staff in Tonga. With international phone lines and internet connectivity still down, Dr. Setoya’s satellite phone is one of the few ways to get information in and out of the country.

“Yuta has literally been out from dawn until late at night for the past few days to make sure the phone can reach the satellite signal and can transmit vital information,” the health cluster coordinator said. of WHO for the Pacific, Sean Casey. “All of us here at WHO, and in the wider UN family, are thinking of Tonga at this time and doing what we can to support the government’s response efforts.”

Initial reports from within Tonga, transmitted by Dr Setoya, indicate that buildings and infrastructure have been damaged – around 100 houses were damaged and 50 completely destroyed on the main island of Tongatapu alone. Two deaths have been reported so far. Many remain displaced, with 89 people sheltering in evacuation centers on Eua Island and many more seeking refuge with relatives. About 2cm of ash and dust fell on Tongatapu, raising concerns about air pollution and potential contamination of food and water supplies. Fortunately, all health facilities in Tongatapu are fully functioning and cleanup efforts have been initiated.

However, information on the degree of destruction is still being collected. The Ha’apai and Vava’u island groups, for example, remain cut off from the capital. There are particular concerns about the smaller, low-lying islands of Mango and Fonoi in the Ha’apai group.

The UN emergency response is coordinated by the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) which brings together UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and international non-governmental organizations to organize the delivery of support in-country and remotely to the response efforts of the Tongan government. The initial objective of the PHT is to support the restoration of communications, to find ways to deliver relief supplies and to provide technical advice on a range of issues such as how to ensure the safety of drinking water affected by the ashes.

“We have very limited means of contacting Tonga at the moment but, for all their family and friends in other countries around the world, please know that your loved ones have our support,” Mr Casey continued. “Our thoughts – but more importantly our action – are with everyone who has been affected.”

Media Contacts

Lauren O’Connor
(Communications, Resource Mobilization and External Relations)
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific – Pacific Technical Support Division
Telephone: +679 777 9733
Email: [email protected]

Ms Faizza Tanggol
Communications consultant
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific – Pacific Technical Support Division
Mobile: +63 998 573 1357
Email: [email protected]