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Tonga Region Aids Nomuka

Tonga Region Aids Nomuka

Six months after the January 15 tsunami in Tonga, the small island of Nomuka still stands in ruins from damage caused by the tsunami. The Salvation Army’s Tonga Regional Commander Captain Kenneth Walker visited the island from the 27 to 28 July to reflect on how The Salvation Army might best assist on the island’s journey towards recovery.

Nomuka is northeast of Tongatapu, and the volcano that erupted earlier this year is southwest of the small island of Nomuka. The damage caused by the tsunami mainly occurred in the first 100 metres of foreshore from the high tide and damaged many buildings and houses in the area.

Although the population of Nomuka has declined since last year and those who lived close to the shore have moved away, most people have stayed on the island. There is currently a small community of 382 people who live there. On his visit, Kenneth noticed that not much of the island had been cleaned up since the tsunami six months ago. There was debris lying on the ground with vegetation growing around it. Temporary shelter tents are still being used near the shoreline to replace those dwellings damaged by the tsunami.

Unfortunately, the lack of accessible resources such as machinery and a recovery plan has meant parts of Nomuka remain damaged. The outcome of this is that the island remains vulnerable to further damage from future tsunamis or bad weather. Essential service buildings such as the hospital and police station were also damaged in the tsunami, and workers remain in relocated, temporary accommodation. An essential way the residents obtain their food is through fishing; however, only 2 out of 28 fishing boats are still usable as the rest were destroyed in the tsunami. Even a neighbouring island, Nomuka Iki, which was once filled with plenty of bushes and greenery is now laid bare like a desert.

Upon talking to the district officer, the high school principal, the hospital nurse and locals, Kenneth discovered the main concern was a lack of water. The residents depend on rainfall for access to clean water, however, there hasn’t been much rainfall and so the water tank is low. A further concern is the lack of water tanks and storage facilities in buildings and houses, as many of these were damaged in the tsunami. A real need of the community is to have the village pond cleaned up, as it is used for water during droughts and it is now very unclean due to the tsunami. There has been water purification equipment donated to the community, but it is not yet set up.

Street lighting was also damaged so many of the solar lights are not working, which makes the island more difficult to navigate at nighttime. The schools are also in need of essential things such as desks, chairs, science equipment, library books and major repairs to buildings. The hospital needs a new bed in the Obstetrics Ward, as there is only a mattress on the floor. The hospital nurse is hoping to get a new bed before the next baby is due to be born on the island. There is also a need for basic electronics, such as a computer and a printer, so workers can do their job more effectively.

The Salvation Army will continue to provide psycho-social support to the island village. The current plans are to continue psycho-social assessments with support workers, and open dialogue with the district and village officers to consider creating a  community gathering place; there will also be discussions with the Ministry of Health to provide new beds, a computer and a printer for the hospital.

The Salvation Army Tonga Region is passionate about assisting Nomuka so the locals can rebuild their lives and have access to basic necessities, including shelter, food, water and health services.

Words: Hope Burmeister

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