By Lydia O’Kane
The first aircraft carrying vital humanitarian aid arrived on Thursday in Tonga.
It comes five days after a volcanic eruption and tsunami hit the South Pacific island nation, leaving devastation in its wake.
The supplies were delivered by a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules that landed in Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport after a blanket of volcanic ash was cleared off the runway.
According to New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, the aircraft was carrying “humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment.”
Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said its aircraft was loaded with supplies including water desalination equipment, shelter, kitchens, and a sweeper to help remove ash from the airport.
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga volcano on Saturday killed at least three people and triggered a tsunami that damaged villages, buildings and contaminated water supplies.
It also knocked out communications for 105,000 people on the island, although telephone links between Tonga and the outside world were reconnected on Wednesday.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is partnering with Caritas Tonga and Caritas Australia to bring relief to all those affected by the disaster.
The agencies work on the principle of Catholic social teaching, ensuring that the response to the disaster is locally-led within Tonga, and that the people on the ground are the ones making the decisions that are the best and most appropriate for them and their communities.
Rachel Harrison is a programmes coordinator for Caritas New Zealand. Speaking to Vatican Radio, she described the work being done to organize pre-positioned supplies for people on the island.
“Pre-positioned supplies are essentially emergency supplies which we have located and we have them in three locations across Tonga… The supplies that are included in these warehouses are things like a water purification unit; we’ve got hygiene kits, buckets, tarpaulins and blankets. And these supplies we make sure are regularly replenished and are ready to go in case of any emergency.”
According to Ms Harrison, Caritas New Zealand received confirmation from New Zealand’s High Commission just a day or two after the eruption, that these supplies were being released.
When an emergency like this happens, the programmes coordinator stressed the importance of being prepared. She said that unfortunately, the people of Tonga “are used to responding to disasters, so they commonly get disasters like cyclones or increasing climate change events like flooding.”
She noted that the upside of this is that the people are prepared, and have the procedures and protocols, both at government and civil society levels in place which enables them to respond very well.
Long term support
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has been working with Caritas Tonga for over two decades and Ms Harrison underlined they are there for the long term in order to help this island get back on its feet.