Humanitarian preparedness and response
Tropical Cyclone Gita
19 June 2018
Tropical Cyclone Gita made landfall in Tonga on 12 February, causing severe damage to the main island of Tongatapu. The cyclone damaged 4,000 homes and destroyed over 800, caused the evacuation of over 4,500 people and left more than 80% of homes in Tonga without power. The cyclone caused US$164 million (equivalent to 38 per cent of GDP) of damage. Estimated recovery and reconstruction costs are US$149 million.
Australia's humanitarian assistance
Australia provided a comprehensive package of humanitarian support to Tonga that included delivering humanitarian supplies by Australian Defence Force C-17 within 24 hours of the storm hitting. Australia's overall package of assistance helped address immediate needs, assisted people return to their homes, reconnected power throughout Tongatapu, and provided support to the island of 'Eua, which was also badly affected by the cyclone.
Australia is also supporting longer-term efforts by the government of Tonga to re-establish schooling, rebuild water supplies and repair or rebuild critical infrastructure.
Australia's assistance included:
- Life-saving supplies including tarpaulins and emergency shelter kits to assist over 10,000 people in need
- Five large electricity generators, which provided power to up to 1,000 households while efforts to restore mains power were undertaken.
Supporting local efforts
- Financial assistance to local and Australian NGOs including the Tonga Red Cross, and the Tongan Women and Children Crisis Centre, who delivered urgent assistance to affected communities.
- Cash distributions to elderly pensioners and people with disabilities in the week of 5 to 9 March with Australian funded assistance delivering much needed support (one-off payments of $130 to 560 people with disabilities and 3,108 elderly pensioners) less than four weeks after the cyclone.
Australian deployments to Tonga
- An Australian medical expert helped conduct an assessment of medical needs immediately after the cyclone.
- Disaster Assistance Response Team personnel assessed the cyclone's impact on key infrastructure including schools, community halls and medical centres.
- Electrical line technicians restored electricity to communities.
- Australian Government crisis specialists who worked alongside the Government of Tonga and International partners to coordinate recovery efforts.
Additionally, Australia provided $155,000 to support Samoa, which was also hit by Cyclone Gita. This funded debris clearance, aerial surveillance, food assistance, and the deployment of a structural engineer to assist with damage assessments.
Reconnecting power to Tonga
Cyclone Gita left more than 80 per cent of homes in Tonga without power. In response the Australian Government collaborated with Australian energy companies to deploy specialists to reconnect power following the cyclone.
More than 20 technicians from NJ Construction, Essential Energy, TransGrid, and Evoenergy worked for a month in Tonga, to restore power to homes, reinstate health and education services, and enable businesses to resume operations. They installed large generators provided by Australia in remote communities, providing about 1,000 households with power.
With Australian assistance power was restored to the main island of Tongatapu within five weeks of the storm. This was less than half of the time expected without external assistance.
On 23 March Ministers Bishop and Fierravanti-Wells announced a $10.5 million package of assistance to support Tonga's recovery and reconstruction efforts. This additional package of assistance will provide support for:
- capacity building, to help the Tongan government to coordinate the recovery effort (working with the World Bank);
- reconstruction of schools (working with the World Bank);
- the private sector (including support for small and medium-scale enterprises); and
- the water, sanitation and hygiene sector (focusing on community water supplies).
Australia is working closely with the Government of Tonga, the World Bank, the Government of New Zealand and other key partners to ensure a coordinated approach to rebuilding. Bearing in mind Tonga's vulnerability to disasters and climate change, Australian support will 'build back better' ensuring the support we provide will survive future disasters.