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Foreign Aid for Tonga’s Natural Disasters

Tonga’s Natural Disasters
In January 2022, Tonga underwent a series of natural disasters that left the country in a state of reparation due to the damage to homes, infrastructure and technological services. As the repairs from Tonga’s natural disasters are widespread and costly, in January 2022, the United States pledged more than $2.5 million in relief aid. The assistance from the U.S. to support reparation efforts will provide the Polynesian nation’s construction industry with significant opportunities for work, helping the country to recover quickly.

Damages From Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are common in Tonga, but January 2022 recorded a tsunami, a volcanic eruption and an earthquake. The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcanic eruption on January 15, 2022, was powerful enough to potentially claim the title of the strongest eruption on the island in at least the last 30 years, if not more. The eruption then triggered a tsunami on the same day, which caused flooding, fatalities, building destruction and a loss of electrical power for extended periods. The tsunami then led to an earthquake, the final natural disaster occurring on January 27, 2022.

The damages do not end with destroyed power and cable lines. However, the extensive dangers of repairing the cable services remain. The storm severed the main cable line connecting Tonga to the rest of the world. The cable line rests on coral reefs, which can be dangerous to navigate. While these details paint a grim picture of the country, Tonga’s construction industry and workforce, with the help of local and international aid volunteers, are ready to help rebuild the island nation.

Tonga Construction Industry and Workforce

In the wake of Tonga’s natural disasters, the construction industry plays a vital part in reparation efforts. Tonga’s construction industry plays a role in implementing some of the goals of the Tonga Strategic Development Framework (2015 -2025). The Framework is a plan to revitalize Tonga’s economy through construction and reconstruction efforts. Tonga aims to achieve this by lowering the costs of construction materials and labor and by making building structures more resilient to extreme climate conditions. The Tongan government especially pushed for these efforts after the destruction of Cyclone Gita in 2018, one of Tonga’s worst cyclones.

In 2020, Tonga’s construction industry contributed more than 14% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). The last clarified national poverty rate was about 22% in 2015. New construction projects since 2018 have created new positions specifically for assisting with relief after Tonga’s natural disasters. Tonga’s natural disasters create a need for construction assistance across all areas of Tonga, including all outlying islands and the main island. The added positions offer jobs to Tongans of all age ranges and levels of educational attainment. The new jobs often come with training, supervision and in-field experience. Each new job is invaluable considering Tonga’s first month of storms in 2022. Foreign aid can also potentially increase the salaries of construction workers during these most recent reparation efforts, helping them to rise out of poverty.

Foreign Aid and the Path to Recovery

Tonga’s natural disasters often cause millions of dollars of damage. As an impoverished country, Tonga’s government lacks the funds necessary to finance reconstruction materials and pay construction workers. For this reason, Tonga relies heavily on international aid. First, the U.S. government pledged $100,000 in financial assistance on January 20, 2022, and less than a week later, on January 26, 2022, the U.S. government allocated $2.5 million to support Tonga’s recovery.

The path to recovery is not easy for Tonga, but the aid does not stop with the United States’ support. British and Australian ships entered Tongan waters in January 2022 to provide necessities such as medical supplies, water and food.

To earn international coverage and garner more support for Tonga, Tongan Olympian athletes, such as Pita Taufatofua, are using their influence to encourage people to donate to support relief efforts and use social media to bring global attention to the humanitarian situation in Tonga.

By beginning construction again, the Tongan economy will be on its way to recovery. Reconstruction and reparation will take time, but with the funds promised by foreign aid and allies, the nation is one step closer to recovery. Though Tonga’s natural disasters are unpredictable, international aid provides hope for relief each time.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr