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Tonga – Volcano and Tsunami Response: USAID/BHA Response Summary (January 2022)

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Date de publication

Key Messages

  • Strong volcanic eruptions and a resultant tsunami on January 14 and 15 local time negatively affected approximately 84,000 people across Tonga, with greatest needs reported across the islands of ‘Eua, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu.

  • On January 24, USAID/BHA allocated an additional $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance to support relief and recovery efforts through UN agency and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, bringing total USAID/BHA funding to the Tonga volcano and tsunami response to $2.6 million.


  • On January 14 local time, a series of eruptions began on Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, located on the uninhabited Hunga Tonga Island approximately 43 miles northwest of Tonga’s capital city of Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu Island, according to the USAID–U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP). On January 15 local time, a second, stronger volcanic eruption triggered tsunami waves as high as 49 feet that reached islands across Tonga, the Government of Tonga (GoT) reports. The eruptions also generated an ash plume reaching up to 60,000 feet high across an area approximately 250 miles wide, producing fast-moving currents of ashfall, hot gas, and rock. The eruptions and subsequent tsunami resulted in three deaths in Tonga, adversely affected 84 percent of Tonga’s population of approximately 100,000 people, and damaged or destroyed an estimated 240 houses and other public infrastructure, according to the Government of Tonga (GoT). As of January 17, an estimated 1 inch of ashfall had covered the major populated islands of Tonga, with 4 to 6 inches of ashfall reported in some areas, according to the GoT and UN.

  • The eruption and tsunami damaged Tonga’s submarine communications cable, limiting international and domestic communications. However, the GoT confirmed that local providers had restored some voice, SMS messaging, and limited internet services as of January 24, and a ship was in route to Tonga to conduct needed repairs to the submarine cable in the coming weeks.

  • On January 19, the UN Resident Coordinator received a request from the GoT for urgent humanitarian assistance due to the effects of the volcanic eruptions and subsequent tsunami across Tonga. Initial assessments indicate that the islands of ‘Eua, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu are in greatest need of humanitarian assistance, particularly food security and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) support. An estimated 50,000 people remain in urgent need of safe drinking water across Tonga, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). While the GoT has determined that groundwater and clean rainwater on Tongatapu are safe for consumption, groundwater in the Ha’apai island group was contaminated by saltwater intrusion, and many water reservoirs countrywide were contaminated by ashfall. Food security also remains a significant concern across affected communities, as earthquake-related ashfall and saltwater intrusion have damaged or destroyed crops and fisheries, as well as resulted in livestock deaths. As of late January, an estimated 85 percent of livestock-rearing households had been affected by the volcanic eruption and tsunami, experiencing livestock loss, damage to grazing lands, and/or contaminated water sources, the UN reports. The agricultural sector represents more than 65 percent of national exports in Tonga, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.