SUVA, January 20, 2021 — The World Bank will provide an initial US$8 million emergency funding to support the Kingdom of Tonga’s response and recovery following the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami on January 15.
This funding will support the country’s response to its most urgent needs, including humanitarian relief, cleanup, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure and support to Tongan families most affected. The support, requested by the Tongan Government, is being offered through an existing World Bank engagement that allows urgent delivery of funds in the event of a catastrophic event.
The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano, located approximately 65 kilometers north of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, erupted on January 15 creating an ash plume at least 30 kilometers high and 260 kilometers wide. This once in 1000-year event triggered a series of tsunami waves affecting islands across the nation, with wave impacts in Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the entire western seaboard of the American continent (from Alaska to Chile). Tonga has now declared a country-wide State of Emergency with at least three fatalities so far confirmed.
Teams from two ongoing World Bank-funded projects are also ready to support Tonga’s response and recovery. These include the Tonga Climate Resilience Transport Project and the Pacific Resilience Project both of which support work to strengthen the resilience of key infrastructure in Tonga including government buildings and schools, as well as air and sea ports.
In addition, the World Bank is preparing to support impact assessments to aid the Government and partners’ understanding of the scale of impacts. This will be critical to ensure response, recovery, and reconstruction needs where they are most urgently needed.
“While a clear picture of the damage from this major disaster is yet to emerge, we know that Tongans are strong and resilient,” said Stephen Ndegwa, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. “Our team stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Tongans at this challenging time, as we will continue to do so in the months and years to come.”
Since 2015, the Pacific Resilience Program has worked to strengthen Tonga’s resilience to natural disasters and climate change. Additional funding was dedicated to upgrade Tongan schools following the impacts of Cyclone Gita in February 2018. It supported reconstruction and repairs at 27 of the country’s most in-need schools including 125 classrooms and 21 Water Sanitation and Hygiene facilities serving more than 9,000 Tongan students. This has rebuilt the schools to higher resilience standards to ensure they’re better protected from storms, floods, cyclones, and earthquakes
The US$8 million in emergency response funding comes through the Tonga Second Resilience Development Policy Operation with a Catastrophe-Deferred Drawdown Option, funded through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the most in-need countries.
The World Bank works in partnership with 12 countries across the Pacific, supporting 85 projects totaling US$2.18 billion in commitments in sectors including agriculture, aviation and transport, climate resilience and adaptation, economic policy, education and employment, energy, fisheries, health, macroeconomic management, rural development, telecommunications, and tourism.