New Zealand’s government on Friday announced an additional $2 million in humanitarian assistance for Tonga, a South Pacific nation hit by an undersea volcano eruption last weekend.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defense Minister Peeni Henare said in a joint statement that a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules carrying relief supplies had already landed in Tonga on Thursday, with more flights scheduled in the coming days.
“This support will enable more crucial supplies, such as drinking water, food supplies, as well as engineering equipment and tools to clear debris, to be sent to Tonga in the coming days and weeks,” Mahuta said.
New Zealand had previously announced $1 million in immediate assistance.
Henare said HMNZS Canterbury, a multi-role vessel (MRV) of the Royal New Zealand Navy, would leave Devonport for Tonga overnight.
“The HMNZS Canterbury will have on board additional stores such as tarpaulins, water containers, milk powder, as well as engineering equipment to clear debris and two NH-90 helicopters,” the minister said.
However, due to Tonga’s COVID-19 protocols, the deliveries will be dropped there without meeting with locals, he added.
Separately, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Mahuta discussed relief efforts with their Tongan counterparts and assured them of their full support, according to a statement.
On Wednesday, Cao Xiaolin, the Chinese ambassador to the island country, said the undersea volcanic eruption has contaminated the entire water supply in the South Pacific nation.
“Tonga’s entire water supply has been contaminated, and people are struggling to get clean water. Crops have also been destroyed,” Xiaolin told Chinese media.
Since last Friday, the volcano on the main Tongatapu island, 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of the capital Nuku’alofa, has been spewing ash, steam, and gas.
It has affected the communications lines on the island.
On Tuesday, the Tonga government said the country had been hit by an “unprecedented disaster.”
Tonga, with a population of just over 105,000 people, is the third-largest archipelago nation in the South Pacific, with over 170 islands, many of which are uninhabited but covered in tropical rainforest.
The disaster hit most parts on the west side of Tonga’s main island, where properties were destroyed and people were relocated to safer places.
According to the UN, the disaster has affected approximately 60,000 people, who have had their crops, livestock, and fisheries damaged as a result of ashfall and saltwater intrusion.
On Thursday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said Tonga’s government had asked for urgent assistance from the UN, to which they were responding.
“Assessment teams have reached most parts of the country, including remote and isolated islands. UN staff in Tonga are supporting the government’s assessment and response efforts and will help distribute aid once humanitarian needs are identified,” Dujarric said during a news briefing.
The spokesman added that the water quality testing will continue as most people are currently relying on bottled water.
“We remain seriously concerned about access to safe water for 50,000 people throughout the country. Water, water purification units and desalination equipment are being shipped to Tonga.”
*Writing by Islamuddin Sajid
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