Planes can once again land in the Polynesian archipelago. The aid will be delivered without any physical contact in the hope of preventing the entry into the country of Covid-19, which has so far spared it.
Food, drinking water, generators and temporary shelters: the first planes carrying emergency aid and communication devices landed on Thursday in the Tonga Islands, cut off from the world five days after a devastating eruption and tsunami.
The small Pacific nation has been isolated since the eruption on January 15 of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, one of the most powerful in the world for decades, which caused heavy damage as well as the rupture of the communications cable connecting the country to global internet and telephone networks.
Australian and New Zealand military planes landed at the archipelago’s main airport on the island of Tongatapu on Thursday, authorities said. The day before, after days of work, the track had finally been cleared of the five to ten centimeter layer of volcanic ash which made it unusable.
Australia sent a first C17 Globemaster plane loaded with aid on Thursday, and expected to take off a second aircraft during the day.
The New Zealand aircraft, meanwhile, “carries humanitarian aid and disaster relief materials including water containers, hygiene kits, temporary shelters, generators and communications equipment”said New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
The first images from Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, show buildings covered in ash, collapsed walls and streets littered with rocks, tree trunks and other debris. About 84,000 people, more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population, were affected by the volcano’s eruption and subsequent tsunami, the UN said.
In particular, the archipelago faces an urgent need for drinking water. “Water supplies across Tonga have been severely affected by ashfall and salt water from the tsunami”said Katie Greenwood of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. According to her, there is “an increasing risk of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea”. Tonga’s food reserves may not be sufficient. “All agriculture is ruined”, said the President of the National Assembly of the country, Fatafehi Fakafanua.
Since planes can land again, many nations have offered to help. Japan has announced the dispatch of two C-130 aircraft. Other countries including China and France have also announced their assistance.
The strict measures intended to prevent the entry into the country of Covid-19, which has so far spared it, will remain in force. Aid will be delivered without any physical contact, and crews and passengers will spend little time on the ground.
Help will also arrive by sea. Two New Zealand vessels, HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa, carrying drinking water and a desalination unit that can supply 70,000 liters per day, are due to arrive in Tonga on Friday. Australia plans to sail the military ship HMAS Adelaide on the same day, with purification equipment and two Chinook helicopters on board.