Tonga: Survivors Get Back on Their Feet after Tropical Cyclone Ian

December 17, 2014

  • In January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian hit the Kingdom of Tonga. The Ha’apai island group was hit hardest, with an estimated 70% of the population affected.
  • The swift roll out of assistance greatly helped reconstruction efforts.
  • Thirty families have started moving in to newly-built cyclone-resistant houses with more to follow soon, while contractors for building houses for ‘non-vulnerable’ families have now been awarded.

Ha’apai, Tonga, December 17, 2014 – The Ha’apai island group has been a hive of activity since construction on houses for vulnerable families started. Thirty out of the 200 houses have been completed and families started moving into their new two-room, cyclone-resistant homes in October 2014.

Under the Cyclone Ian Reconstruction and Climate Resilience Project, a joint World Bank and Tonga government initiative, up to 350 one-room houses are also set to be constructed with building contracts awarded to two local companies in December 2014. Damaged houses will be repaired and existing houses will be reinforced to withstand future cyclones.

Swift action to assist Tonga

The Category 5 cyclone was the most powerful storm ever recorded in Tonga and had devastating impacts on the Ha’apai island group. An estimated 5,500 people, approximately 70% of the Ha’apai population, were affected. Most of the 1,100 houses and many of the public facilities were damaged or destroyed. Fourteen people were injured and one person died.

Within two weeks of the cyclone, the government received $1.27 million from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance pilot program, which the country joined in 2013. The pilot program provides participating Pacific Island countries with risk insurance from natural disasters such as cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

This payment was the first received by any country under the pilot and allowed swift action for on-the-ground support for the Ha’apai people.

“A week after the cyclone, the World Bank team along with the government visited Ha’apai,” said Havea Tu’iha’angana, Governor of Ha’apai. “They started by carrying out surveys and collecting data on damaged houses.  I am very thankful for this project because it’s very quick.”

Another $12 million in grants and low interest loans were provided through the World Bank’s Crisis Response Window (CRW). The funds were received within four months of Cyclone Ian, making it the fastest ever payout through the CRW.  This was complemented by $2 million in funds from the government.  The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery  provided a grant of $ 1.8 million to help Tonga prepare for future disasters.

" When we came back after the cyclone, we discovered that our house was blown away. We are very happy to have this house and we are looking forward to staying here for the rest of our lives "

Eseta Fakahua


Supporting the most vulnerable

Priority was given to the replacement of destroyed or damaged housing for the most vulnerable members of the community. Consultations took place with the government and communities to determine who fell into this category. Ultimately, the most ‘vulnerable’ were defined as those who had members of the family who were disabled, single parents, or widowed. They were also those who have eight or more people in the immediate family, had low or no remittances, or where the head of the household was aged 65 years or older.

These ‘houses for vulnerable’ (H4V) provide two rooms for the family to move into and will be the first completed.

“When we came back after the cyclone our house was blown away,” said ‘Eseta Fakahua, mother of seven who received one of the first houses built.  ”We are very happy to have this house and we are looking forward to staying here for the rest of our lives.”

Other housing activities are also scheduled. For instance, eligible families will receive support to replace, repair, or retrofit homes for climate resilience.

Preparing for the future

In many places, houses constructed to climate-resilient standards in the early 1980s withstood Cyclone Ian.  However, newer homes were completely destroyed or severely damaged. It’s vital that the project includes preparation and resilience against future natural disasters.

All houses being constructed through the program are climate-resilient and can withstand wind speeds to up to 70 meters (230 feet) per second. Retrofitting and repairing will also take place to strengthen houses for up to 1,000 eligible families. Community facilities, including the main Lifuka market, will be reconstructed and strengthened.

“For the houses, we used the design that has been tested before and that’s in accordance to the Category 3/Category 4 cyclone resistant standards,” said Uatea Salesa, Project Manager of the Tropical Cyclone Ian Reconstruction Project. “Our aim is, probably towards the end of the year, that those families will be back into their houses.”