Children reeling from eruption, tsunami – and now, Covid-19
Days before children were due back to school for a new year, the eruption of a massive underwater volcano triggered a devasting tsunami in Tonga. Waves tore through the tiny island nation, forcing hundreds to flee to higher ground and destroying homes and schools. Ash blanketed the country and polluted drinking water, making it unsafe to drink.
One month on, Tongans are facing another crisis. Desperate to stop the nation’s first ever outbreak of Covid-19, Tonga has gone into a 14-day lockdown.
The virus was first detected in two wharf workers distributing aid. The government moved quickly, shuttering businesses and closing schools.
Now hundreds of displaced families and their children are in lockdown and crowded into evacuation shelters. Efforts to distribute aid, rebuild homes and keep children learning are being hampered by efforts to stop the virus, which has already infected more than 100 people.
In any crisis, children are always the most vulnerable. A compounding disaster like this one can severely affect their physical safety and emotional wellbeing.
Save the Children is incredibly concerned for the mental health of children in Tonga and our response will support their wellbeing. Witnessing the destruction caused by the tsunami has already caused distress and anxiety amongst children, and COVID-19 is only making things worse.
The 63 residents of Mango Island evacuated to the hillside and watched
as every single home on the island was washed into the sea.
The survivors stayed on the hillside until dawn to pray and keep watch for further waves.
Photo: Revd. Kisina Toetu’u/Matangi Tonga
Save the Children’s response
With the generous help of supporters, Save the Children has already sent critical supplies to Tonga. Classroom kits, chalkboards, face masks and school bags have arrived, as well as large tents to be used as temporary classrooms in places where schools have been destroyed.
Our locally based staff are committed to making sure children get the support and protection they need during this time and long after the crisis is over. We’ve already been working with the Tongan Ministry of Education and Training to keep children learning by rolling out remote educational resources via TV and radio.
When restrictions ease, Save the Children will work with the Ministry to provide school bags and learning materials to the students who have lost everything. Child Friendly Spaces will be set up to give children a place to play, receive support and start to process what they’ve been through.
For children who attend regularly, these safe spaces provide them a sense of normalcy and routine which can improve their psychosocial wellbeing. The spaces also help families sort out their homes and livelihoods knowing their children are being cared for.
Save the Children humanitarian supplies are loaded onto an aircraft bound for Tonga.
Photo: Jesse Kane/Australian Defence Force
Rebuilding one step at a time
The ash may have settled in Tonga, but children and their families are just beginning to recover from the tsunami, while grappling with the complexities of the pandemic.
Sadly, the people of Pacific Island nations are used to facing disasters. With seawaters rising across the Pacific as a result of climate change, countries like Tonga are more vulnerable than ever to tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
Thanks to your generous support, we’ll help Tongan families piece their lives back together and recover from this disaster - and be more resilient for the next.