Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption and Tsunami
On 15 January 2022, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano erupted, triggering a devastating tsunami and blanketing many of Tonga’s islands in a thick layer of volcanic ash.
Tragically, three lives were lost as a result of the tsunami, including two Tongan nationals and a British national. Serious injuries were also reported.
Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, including the capital Nuku’alofa, experienced significant ashfall and flooding, and infrastructure on several outer islands was largely destroyed. On 23 January, the worst affected islands were evacuated to Tongatapu, to consolidate relief efforts.
The tsunami caused significant damage to Tonga’s international and domestic undersea fibre-optic cables, temporarily severing communications with and within the island nation.
Despite the unprecedented scale of the disaster, the Government of Tonga, with Australia’s support, responded rapidly and effectively to the emergency, and is now focusing on recovery and reconstruction.
Australia's humanitarian assistance
Australia responded swiftly and comprehensively to the events in Tonga, guided by the requests and priorities of the Tongan Government, and in close coordination with likeminded partners. Australia committed $3 million in initial humanitarian assistance and an additional $16 million to support Tonga’s recovery and reconstruction and bolster its COVID-19 response.
The first Australian assistance to Tonga was delivered via a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-17 aircraft on 20 January. This and subsequent RAAF flights delivered over 110 tonnes of emergency relief supplies and equipment to Tonga.
HMAS Adelaide, one of Australia’s largest naval vessels, arrived in Tonga on 26 January carrying humanitarian and medical supplies, engineering equipment and helicopters to support logistics and distribution. In the weeks that followed, HMAS Supply and HMAS Canberra also brought fuel, construction materials and disaster relief supplies to Tonga.
Overall, Australian naval vessels and RAAF flights delivered more than 370 tonnes of essential emergency relief supplies and equipment to Tonga, including:
- shelter kits and bedding
- water containers
- water purification tablets
- water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and clean-up equipment
- equipment to restore communications
- engineering equipment and helicopters to support logistics and distribution
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Australia collaborated with local humanitarian networks to rapidly provide relief to those affected. Existing Australian stores in Tonga, prepositioned for potential disasters such as this one, were delivered to impacted communities through the Tonga Red Cross Society. All of Australia’s humanitarian supplies and equipment were delivered in a COVID-safe way, in close partnership with the Tongan Government.
To help the Tongan Government determine the scope of the damage caused by the disaster, Australian Defence Force (ADF) surveillance aircraft conducted aerial assessments of Tonga’s islands. ADF personnel also transported Tongan technicians to Kao Island to repair a vital telecommunications tower damaged during the disaster and provided substantial support to the Tongan Government’s clean-up and recovery efforts.
Following significant repair efforts, communication between Tonga and the outside world was restored. Mobile and internet connectivity in parts of Tonga has been re-established, and Australia continues to work with the Tongan Government on the ongoing restoration of domestic communications.
The disaster prompted a global humanitarian response. Australia played a key role in coordinating the relief effort, working closely with France and New Zealand (under the FRANZ agreement), Fiji, the United States, Japan, India and the United Kingdom. This collective approach strengthens cooperation on humanitarian and disaster responses in the region.
While the arrival of COVID-19 in Tonga was concerning, the Government of Tonga responded rapidly to the outbreak. Australia has been and remains a resolute partner in Tonga’s COVID-19 preparedness and response, including through the provision of 73,990 vaccines, testing equipment, and support for the national vaccine rollout. With Australia’s support, 98 per cent of Tonga’s eligible population has had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while over 90% have had their second dose.
Australia will continue to work in close partnership with the Tongan Government and other countries to assist Tonga’s ongoing recovery and reconstruction efforts.
- Further Australian Support for Tonga (9 April 2022), joint media release from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
- Further Humanitarian Support for Tonga (26 January 2022), joint media release from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
- RAAF C-17A flight with Australian supplies arrives in Tonga (20 January 2022), joint media release from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
- Australia to provide assistance to Tonga following volcanic eruption and tsunami (16 January 2022), joint media release from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.