Rebuilding Tsunami-Affected Homes in Remote Islands of Tonga

April 10, 2014


One of the new houses

The World Bank

Following a devastating tsunami in 2009 in Tonga’s outermost island group, the Niuas, the World Bank worked with the community to rebuild homes, as well as critical rural roads. Now living in disaster-proofed houses and safer locations away from the coast, communities feel more secure as they recover from the impact of the disaster.


On September 30 2009, the Niuas  island group in the far north of Tonga was struck by an earthquake of 8.3 magnitude, closely followed by three tsunami waves which inundated nearly half of the main island of Niuatoputapu. The impact was devastating: nine people lost their lives; a third of all homes were destroyed, with others severely  damaged; and communities lost much critical infrastructure.


After site visits to the affected islands and consultations with government officials, local residents and other donors, the reconstruction of permanent residential housing was established as a key priority for communities in Niuatoputapu. To build resilience for the future, new houses have been designed to be more resistant to extreme weather and natural disasters, and, with community support, relocated to higher ground where people would be safer from future disaster events.


  • Starting in October 2010 through to 2013, the project team provided assistance in coordinating and facilitating the implementation of the Tsunami Recovery Program, including activities financed by the Government of Tonga and other donors. This enabled the reconstruction of all affected buildings in Niuatoputapu, including critical infrastructure such as roads, shops, and community buildings.
  • Under the project, 73 new cyclone resistant houses were constructed in a safer part of the island on higher ground, located outside the tsunami inundation zone, with access to good quality water supply and sanitation facilities. Gardens are on fertile soil which has allowed verdant growth, while people continue to use the original land by the coast for livestock. Improved toilet facilities and reliable water supply have allowed improved sanitation and hygiene. The affected houses are now more resilient to the impacts of future disasters through improved construction methods and relocation, where this was necessary for community safety.

The same cyclone-resistant building design saved many homes from the havoc of category 5 cyclone Ian, the strongest cyclone ever to hit Tonga, which in January 2014 destroyed the majority of homes on the Ha’apai island group.

  • A further 38 homes and 7 community halls that were damaged but not fully destroyed have been repaired and 9 new buildings built to replace four destroyed shops, two bakeries and three communal weaving houses have been constructed.
  • About 13 km of village access roads as well as the island’s main collector road, damaged by the tsunami, have been resealed, better connecting communities to hospitals, schools and community buildings. The road works also created jobs, income and training for about 100 local residents – including some 20 women.
  • Tonga’s capacity to produce and use risk information to support disaster reduction, preparedness and recovery has been significantly improved due to equipment, information, and training delivered by the project as demonstrated by the high quality building damage maps to guide reconstruction planning following Tropical Cyclone Ian which hit the Ha’apai island group in Tonga in January 2014. A policy framework for the integration of risk information in land use planning has been developed and its use was piloted on Niuatoputapu.
  • Signage identifying tsunami evacuation areas, escape routes and safe areas has been installed on the island and community disaster response arrangements have been developed and tested through drills. 

" The project is about much more than a number. It is about the joy and happiness of the people. "

Fe’ao Vakata

Member of Parliament for the Niuas


Damage caused by the tsunami

The World Bank

Bank Group Contribution

The project was funded under a grant from the International Development Association in the value of US $5 million.


The project was implemented by the Niuas Development Committee chaired by the Minister of Public Enterprises in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and National Planning and relevant line ministries, with complementary reconstruction activities conducted by New Zealand’s aid program, Caritas International and the Government of Japan.

In addition to the grant from the World Bank’s International Development Association, the government of Tonga secured about US$4 million to support the implementation of its tsunami reconstruction program for Niuataputapu with the assistance of other partners. The project management unit provided management support on behalf of the government to these other activities of the broader tsunami reconstruction program.


Family in their new home

The World Bank

Moving Forward

The government’ s response to the recent disaster  of tropical cyclone Ian, an order of magnitude larger than the tsunami, is testament to increased capacity in tackling critical reconstruction and recovery . Increased mapping capacity was used to quickly develop robust and high-quality damage maps from post-disaster aerial surveillance to support reconstruction and recovery planning. The building designs used in the project will be replicated and housing reconstruction planning is well advanced, with specific emphasis given to address crucial land tenure issues in a timely manner and with highest political 


Fe’ao Vakata is from Niuatoputapu. Member of Parliament for the Niuas, he came over as part of one of the first relief teams, bringing clothes and other urgent supplies to the affected communities. He describes what it was like at the time:

“From wharf to shore you could see damage and there was no one around. It was like a ghost-town. There was no house that wasn’t affected. All the houses on the right-hand side were gone.”

“The community was devastated. You talked to them at the time and everyone cried, even the men. They said it’s not just the wave but the whole sea that came to us. The week after it happened, people refused to come down from the mountain. They stayed in the bush, too scared that another disaster might strike.

“The project is about much more than a number,” says Fe’ao. “It is about the joy and happiness of the people.”

Uini Limoni is one of those whose family has benefitted from the new homes. “The families are safer now, the children are safe. How can we not be thankful for that?”

new cyclone resistant houses were constructed in a safer part of the island.