Tonga strengthens early warnings on World Tsunami Awareness Day

Tonga drill

The Pacific Island of Tonga is stepping up action on early warnings and preparedness following a powerful tsunami last year. In January 2022, the eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and resulting tsunami left damage and losses equivalent to US$182 million, or more than 36 percent of Tonga’s GDP. The poorest and most at-risk families were hit the hardest with many in informal sectors related to tourism, fisheries and agriculture severely impacted. The volcanic eruption also produced the fastest underwater flows ever recorded. Telecommunications were cut for 6 weeks and the tsunami waves were recorded reaching as far as Peru and Japan. 

To mark World Tsunami Awareness Day this year, Tonga’s National Disaster Risk Management Office organised a major drill to test the early warning systems and ensure children know what to do in the event of a tsunami. Over 1500 students participated from three schools on the main island of Tongatapu.  

Alongside the drill, new tsunami evacuation maps were installed around the island for public awareness and to educate on the safest route to get in land.  

Speaking at the event, Mami Mizutori Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction called on the students to leave no one behind as they practiced evacuating, noting “today is very important, you will know what you have to do when you hear the sirens…this is preparedness and it very important”. 

Participating in the drill, Tim Solo teacher and founder of the Tonga National Disability Congress explained “this is the best way to deliver the message to youngers and people. Then we have the experience of how to move safely”  

The drill comes in the wider context of major efforts to strengthen disaster risk reduction across the country, including implementing new disaster risk management legislation and the first country globally to adopt an integrated strategy on both climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.  

Moana Kioa, Deputy Director of the National Disaster Risk Management Office explained, “the joint National Action Plan for climate change and also disaster risk is because we understand our communities are very vulnerable. A lot of the  time disasters may be rare but the impact of climate change has sea level rising is a daily thing and we want to advocate the two issues every time we reach out because we understand it is here.” 

Tonga is also the incoming Chair of the Pacific Island From in 2024 where climate change and disaster risk reduction are high on the agenda.  

World Tsunami Awareness Day 2023 takes place as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Early Warnings for All initiative gets well underway on implementation. The initiative, which includes tsunami risk, aims to cover every person on the globe with an early warning system by 2027. It also follows on from the high-level meeting at the United Nations in May 2023 on the midterm review of the Sendai Framework, where Prime Minister Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni of Tonga called for greater action on accessing financing for disaster risk reduction.   

The purpose of World Tsunami Awareness Day (WTAD) is to raise awareness about reducing tsunami-related risks and enhance community preparedness. With the kind support of the government of Japan, World Tsunami Awareness Day is marked by events around the world on and around 5 November. 

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Themes Early warning
Country and region Tonga
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