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Three months have passed since the violent eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano, and the resulting tsunami that caused severe damage along the coasts of the Tonga archipelago: it was January 15.
Three months later, the reconstruction of Tonga is slowly progressing, and more precise information is available on the impact of the disaster. Last week, the prime minister handed over the keys to the first of 468 homes the government plans to rebuild on three of the hardest-hit islands as part of its recovery plan.
About 3,000 people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the tsunami: initially they had found refuge in municipal halls or evacuation centers. The people affected or involved in various ways by the consequences of the eruption, however, are many more: they are 80 percent of the population, which is made up of about 105 thousand people.
In the days before the powerful eruption, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano appeared to be in a relatively calm phase, after a few more turbulent days in late 2021. By January 15, however, it had produced a high column of smoke, a substantial amount of lightning and finally an eruption producing a powerful shockwave that had traveled thousands of kilometers and helped produce tsunamis. The largest waves had caused damage along the coasts of the Tonga archipelago, while smaller ones had been detected thousands of kilometers away in North America and South America.
According to experts, such an eruption with virtually global consequences occurs every thousand years.
The tsunami in Tonga had killed four people; the World Bank then estimated damages of around 83 million dolars, about 18 per cent of the archipelago’s gross domestic product. Among the sectors most affected are obviously many coastal tourist activities, but agriculture and fishing have also suffered.
The international community had intervened quickly: around 7 million dolars in aid had come from the World Bank, and around 9 million dolars from theAsian Development Bank. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, the United States and China had provided humanitarian assistance. However, it had taken about five weeks to restore internet service to the archipelago.
Furthermore, the recovery and reconstruction process had been slowed down by the pandemic: the first outbreak of COVID-19 may have been caused by foreign crews who rushed to deliver aid shortly after the disaster. To manage the epidemic, some lockdowns were imposed on the archipelago: the country remains in a state of emergency.
Sione Taumoefolau, Secretary General of the Tonga Red Cross, he told Associated Press that there is still a lot to do and that some citizens will have to be relocated to areas other than those in which they lived before. It is also difficult to bring supplies to the most remote islands, many of which are still without internet.
“Three months later, people are starting to return to normal,” said Taumoefolau, “but there is still a need for psychological and social support for those most affected, especially those who will have to move.”