US gives $2.5m for Tonga disaster relief, as aid gathers pace

US will also deploy USS Sampson to join Australian and British ships on ‘contactless’ aid runs following eruption and tsunami.

Tonga continues to cautiously receive aid from several countries, while also trying to avoid spreading COVID-19 in the tiny Pacific island nation, which has never had an outbreak [Tonga Red Cross Society/Handout via Reuters]

The United States has announced more money to help Tonga rebuild two weeks after a massive volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami that swept across the chain of Pacific islands.

The US said in a statement on Wednesday that it would provide an additional $2.5m in humanitarian assistance to the country through the US Agency for International Development. The money is in addition to an initial pledge of $100,000.

Aid shipments are continuing from several countries following the January 15 disaster, with measures in place to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Tonga, which is one of the few places in the world never to have had an outbreak.

Reports say personnel on board British and Australian navy ships have attempted to deliver aid without making contact with anyone on the island itself.

The danger of spreading the disease was underscored when nearly two dozen sailors on the Australian ship HMAS Adelaide were reported to have the virus on Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19. It is one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

Under pandemic measures, Tonga typically requires visitors to quarantine for three weeks on arrival, which creates enormous challenges for international disaster response.

Tongan authorities are wary that accepting international aid could usher in a bigger disaster than the eruption and tsunami in which three people are known to have died.

Britain said its ship the HMS Spey arrived with 30,000 litres (7,900 gallons) of bottled water, medical supplies for more than 300 first aid kits, and basic sanitation products. It said none of its sailors got off the ship, and instead moved the supplies ashore by crane.

HMAS Adelaide was also set to deliver supplies without coming into contact with the local population.

The government said a “high priority” had been placed on COVID safety during the delivery.

“The ship is undertaking an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies,” it said.


In New Zealand, home to a large number of Tongans, the community has also been collecting food and water aid for their families, on top of the aid provided by the government in Wellington.

US ship deployed

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that aside from the financial aid package, Washington will also assist the relief effort with the deployment of USS Sampson to Tongan waters.

“USS Sampson is providing lifesaving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga and is operating in support of the Australian Defence Force,” the statement said.

USS Sampson has previously provided humanitarian assistance in the region including in the aftermath of a New Zealand earthquake in 2016.

USAID is working to provide safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and other food assistance, Price said, adding that the US adheres to existing COVID-19 preventative guidance of the World Health Organization, the US, and Tonga.

Different US agencies such as the US Geological Survey are also trying to help by monitoring seismic activity and providing emergency tsunami alert protocols to Tonga.

Japan also delivered an emergency aid package of more than $1m, including the first batch of relief supplies and three tonnes of drinking water.

Meanwhile, China provided emergency cash assistance of $100,000 to Tonga through the Red Cross Society of China, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

World Central Kitchen, a group of chefs from around the world, also said in a social media post that they are preparing to ship food and hygiene kits to Tonga from a port in Fiji.

Japan Aid
Japan Self-Defense Forces officers load relief supplies bound for Tonga onto the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s transport vessel Osumi at its base in Hiroshima [Kyodo via Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, AP