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Disaster continues for cyclone hit communities in Tonga

27 January 2014

Disaster continues for cyclone hit communities in Tonga

The director of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Julianne Hickey, says the disaster continues for communities in Tonga where lives and homes have been destroyed by Cyclone Ian. “The emergency isn’t over for people facing huge challenges as they start to recover and rebuild their lives.”

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is supporting Caritas Tonga to assist communities to recover and rebuild after Tropical Cyclone Ian devastated the Ha’apai islands of Tonga two weeks ago. It is estimated that 75 per cent of buildings in Ha’apai have been destroyed or have major damage, with crops, infrastructure and water supplies also having sustained significant damage.

Amelia Ma’afu, Caritas Tonga programmes coordinator, says providing a safe water supply is the top priority. “Drinking water is a major problem. Cyclone damage to the water supply has resulted in contamination, so people are advised not to drink piped water. Rainwater tanks which many people use have also been damaged.” Caritas Tonga is providing clean drinking water for 1,500 people in Ha’apai.

Volunteers from Caritas Tonga are helping to clean up and collect debris from damaged buildings and assist with the immediate repair of homes to provide temporary shelter for affected families. There are still over 2,335 people living in emergency in evacuation centres.

Caritas Tonga is leading the national trauma counselling response due to its experience and expertise in post-disaster psychosocial support and has deployed a team of trained counsellors to Ha’apai. “After our first debrief with 20 members of the community, it was clearly evident psycho-social support services are very much needed for the affected people in Ha’apai,” says Father Seluini ‘Akauola, head of the Caritas Tonga trauma counselling team. Mrs Hickey says exposure to a disaster impacts the social and psychological wellbeing of people. “Early support helps to recognise and reduce the impact of trauma, alleviate distress and strengthen resilience to start moving on.”

While current food aid is meeting immediate needs, there are concerns that food supplies will dwindle in the coming weeks as 75 per cent of food crops were destroyed by the cyclone. Caritas Tonga is working with the Government of Tonga to send a container of food to Ha’apai and will work with communities to replant gardens with early maturing food crops.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has so far provided $45,000 to Caritas Tonga which includes generous donations from the public and a $10,000 contribution from the Tindall Foundation.

Donations to the Caritas Pacific Cyclone Fund to support Caritas Tonga to assist cyclone response are being accepted by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.

Donations to Caritas can be made by:
Phoning 0800 22 10 22 to make credit card donations or
Donating online using a credit card at or
Posting to Caritas, PO Box 12193, Thorndon, Wellington 6144, New Zealand.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.


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