Strengthening Tonga

16 January 2019

Topics: Cyclone 'Eua Gita Tonga

New members of the Pangai Village Emergency Management Committee. Yvette Crafti/Act for Peace
By building grass-roots cooperation between local communities, governments, and partner organisations, Tongan villages are more prepared than ever to confront disaster.

Tonga at risk                                                        

From cyclones to volcanoes, rising sea levels to droughts, and earthquakes to tsunamis: these are some of the disasters that the Pacific Islands face every year. Because of their size and location, small island nations are especially prone to these disasters, and Tonga is one of the most vulnerable.

When storms like February's Tropical Cyclone Gita hit Tonga, the impacts can be catastrophic. Crops are flooded by torrential rains, homes are knocked to the ground by extreme winds, and drinking water can be contaminated by deadly diseases

And usually, it is the most vulnerable people who are affected most. People with disabilities and the elderly face immediate danger from flooding, and the poorest members of the community struggle to recover after storms wreak havoc on their local economy. What’s more, extreme weather is only going to get worse with climate change.

The Pangai community undertook one week of disaster management training, covering first aid, disability support, and evacuation procedures. Yvette Crafti/Act for Peace

When disaster strikes…

But through the TC Gita response and recovery program, Tongan villages are able to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from these natural disasters. By helping local communities access the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to get through times of crisis, our partner is reducing the human, economic, and environmental risks of disasters.

An emergency alliance

Together with Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office and our local partner the Tonga National Council of Churches, and supported by our partners in New Zealand, MFAT and Tearfund, Act for Peace is working towards ensuring all Tongan villages have a Village Emergency Management Plan. This ensures that when disaster does strike, that people are prepared and the harm caused is minimal.

Working with our partners, we are able to provide training on disability inclusion in emergencies and first aid, so that even the most vulnerable members of the community are protected in times of crisis. In our sixth year of setting up and training Village Emergency Management Committees, we’re well on the way to achieving the country’s goal of having all communities covered.

The program shows that when governments, aid agencies and communities ally together, a positive difference can be made to vulnerable communities.

After a week of disaster management training, a Village Emergency Management Committee member shows the Pangai community how to apply first-aid. Yvette Crafti/Act for Peace

Local know-how

On a recent visit to Tonga, Act for Peace was able to see the progress of this partnership.

Visiting newly-enrolled villages on the island of ‘Eua, we saw how the men and women who volunteer on the Village Emergency Management Committees are trained in disaster preparation, first aid, disability care, and evacuation coordination. These Committees will be the very first people to respond when the next storm hits.

We saw how villages have now built emergency supplies of water, ensuring that when disasters strike, clean water remains available.

And we saw how the whole community was involved in simulation exercises to practice what to do when disasters strike.

Village Emergency Management Committee members in Pangai, ‘Eua debrief after a successful simulation exercise. Yvette Crafti/Act for Peace

Stronger than ever, stronger together

Thanks to your support, Tongan villages with Emergency Management Plans were well prepared when Cyclone Gita hit in early 2018. They were able to quickly access clean water for cooking and drinking, tarpaulins for shelter, and electricity generators for light.

Even though this was the strongest tropical cyclone that the country had seen in over sixty years, communities told us they felt safer, better prepared and more able to cope after the cyclone than before, when they didn’t have their Village Emergency Management Committee leading the way.

This shows just how effective our partnerships with local communities, governments and partner organisations can be in building stronger communities. Thanks to your support, Tongan communities are more prepared than ever, especially in remote islands where help can be days or weeks away.