On January 15, the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which caused a tsunami, cut off this small Pacific nation from the rest of the planet.
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The water supplies of tens of thousands of people could be contaminated by ash from the volcano or salt water from the ensuing tsunami. The Tonga Islands were facing an immense shortage of drinking water on Friday, January 21, almost a week after the eruption of the volcano in the archipelago.
On January 15, the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which caused a tsunami, cut off this small Pacific nation from the rest of the planet after the communications cable linking the archipelago to the Internet network broke.
The situation remains difficult, due to the lack of humanitarian aid and the titanic operation of clearing the ashes which the inhabitants must now tackle. Jonathan Veitch, in charge of coordinating operations for the United Nations from Fiji, estimated that the main problem for Tongans is drinking water. “Before the eruption, a majority of them depended on rainwater”, he explained. If the ash made it all toxic, that’s a problem, unless they can access underground sources.” For him, he “is now vital to be able to determine their location”.
Rescue operations began in earnest on Thursday after the archipelago’s main airstrip was finally cleared of the thick layer of ash that covered it. But the distance, the communication difficulties and the measures put in place to prevent the Covid-19 from affecting this kingdom of 170 islands, hitherto spared, complicate the rescue operations.
The New Zealand ship HMNZS Aotearoa docked on Friday, carrying large supplies of drinking water. “(It) also has the capacity to desalinate 70-75,000 liters of water per day which will make a difference to the people, at least on Tongatapu”, said Jonathan Veitch. Unicef sent a large number of water and sanitation kits on board the Australian aid ship HMAS Adelaide, who left Brisbane on Thursday evening.