Red Cross in Tonga confirms urgent need for safe drinking water

A Red Cross volunteer stops to refresh in the midst of delivering relief to communities in Tonga.

A Red Cross volunteer stops to refresh in the midst of delivering relief to communities in Tonga.

Photo: Tonga Red Cross Society

Kuala Lumpur/Suva, 19 January 2022 – Red Cross is rushing safe drinking water to people across Tonga as water supplies have been disrupted by layers of volcanic ash and salt water that were dumped on the Pacific island nation following last weekend’s eruption and tsunami.

Red Cross teams on the ground have confirmed widespread stagnant pools of salt water that were dumped by the tsunami and communities are covered with a thick layer of volcanic ash, polluting the clean drinking water sources of tens of thousands of people.

Katie Greenwood, the Pacific Head of Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said:

“After being cut off from the world, we have successfully contacted Tonga Red Cross for the first time, who report that all their staff and volunteers are safe and working hard, providing relief, including shelter and drinking water.

“Tonga Red Cross confirms emergency team members have been sent alongside authorities to islands including Mango, Fonoifua and Namuka Islands, where homes have been completely wiped out.

“Red Cross teams are urgently delivering drinking water and relief kits for people who have lost everything. It is heartbreaking and devastating for these remote island communities.

“Securing access to safe drinking water is a critical immediate priority as we work with our partners and the Australian and New Zealand governments to get relief supplies such as mobile water treatment facilities into Tonga.

“Water supplies across Tonga have been severely impacted by ashfall and saltwater from the tsunami. It’s vital to restore access to safe drinking water as there is a mounting risk of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.”

Tonga Red Cross emergency teams are providing people with clean water, tarpaulins, shelter tool kits, kitchen sets and other essential relief.

IFRC has mobilised its regional network and partnerships with governments to send relief supplies by sea in the coming days and as part of airlifts once Tonga’s ash-covered international airport is open.

“Fortunately, Tonga Red Cross has pre-positioned relief supplies to support 1,200 families in exactly this kind of disaster. Essential items such as tarpaulins, shelter tool kits, blankets, kitchen sets, and hygiene kits are all proving vital for people who have lost everything.

“It is critical to replenish the relief supplies in the coming days as items are being distributed to hard-hit communities across the islands and threats remain from the volcano and cyclones.

“These relief efforts require a coordinated approach, combining the efforts of our Tonga Red Cross colleagues on the ground, Red Cross Red Crescent and humanitarian partners, and the heavy lifting capacity of the Australian and New Zealand Governments.”

Update: On 21 January 2022 the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal for the Tonga volcano and tsunami. Find out more here.

For more information, contact:

In Suva:
Soneel Ram, +679 9983 688,
[email protected]

Asia Pacific Office:
Joe Cropp, +61 491 743 089,
[email protected]

Asia Pacific Office:
Antony Balmain, +60 12 230 8451,
[email protected]

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