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WFP Geneva Palais Briefing Note: Situation in Tonga

This is a summary of what was said by WFP Spokesperson, Tomson Phiri – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), stands ready to provide assistance to Tonga following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha-apai underwater volcano in the Pacific on 15 January. It has been incredibly difficult to get a full picture of the extent of the damage as most parts of the island nation are without communication and internet access.


Through the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, and Logistics Cluster, WFP teams are supporting the re-establishment of communications, telephone and internet. Partial communication has been restored – but challenges remain. Solutions include deployment of equipment out of Fiji, via a landing stage in Brisbane, Australia that was set up as part of regional preparedness actions, to bridge the connectivity gap while the submarine cable is being repaired.


The ash on the runway of Tonga’s international airport remains a concern to the re-establishment of flights to the country.


Through the food security cluster, WFP is supporting the assessment of needs and priorities. While results have not been finalised, it would appear all agricultural sectors have been badly affected including crops, livestock and fisheries. Initial estimates show up to 12,000 agricultural families have been affected.


Roughly 60 to 70 percent of livestock-rearing families are estimated to have been affected. Given the enormity of the volcano eruption, it’s likely most families could do nothing to protect or save their livestock from perishing and for those that survived, there may be very little grazing pasture and uncontaminated water supplies left.


WFP has been monitoring the food security situation in Tonga. Even before the volcano eruption, 20 percent of Tongan families were food insecure. Preparations are now under way to restart remote food security assessments in affected areas once connectivity is re-established. While the extent of the damage is yet to be fully understood, what is clear is that Tonga will need assistance both in the short-term and long-term.


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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.


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Tonga Emergencies


Tomson Phiri,
Mob. +41 79 842 80 57