Inadequate supplies of clean drinking water are Tonga’s chief concern a full week after the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami reduced the island chain to a tattered shambles of mud, wreckage and disrupted lives.
A national emergency team has managed to distribute 60,000 litres of potable water to island residents and a desalination plant loaded aboard a New Zealand Navy vessel arrived on Friday.
The seagoing plant is capable of producing 70,000 litres a day and has already started drawing water from Tonga’s harbour.
Ash grounds local flights
Residents who lost homes on outlying islands when the tsunami, crashed over the South Pacific archipelago are being relocated to the main island of Tongatapu due to water and food shortages.
Volcanic fallout on the surface of the ocean continues to damage boats and hobble marine transport between the islands. Domestic flights were also suspended, the Tongan prime minister’s office said in a statement.
Ash and the tsunami, which reached wave heights of 15 metres, have affected 84 per cent of the population, and inter-island communications remain an “acute challenge” with limited satellite and radio links.
Burials were held earlier in the week for a Tongan man and woman who died when the tsunami flattened outlying Ha’apai islands. The official death toll is three.
In a small step back to normalcy, limited money services have been restored in the island chain’s capital.
Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau, the coordinator for the project to rebuild Tonga’s parliament, said the limited restoration of international money transfer services was important so people could buy essential goods.
“Tongans have demonstrated their resilience in this calamity and will get back on their feet,” he said, speaking to Reuters from Tongatapu.
More naval vessels from Australia, New Zealand and Britain are en-route to Tonga to deliver aid, as defence flights continue to arrive from Australia and New Zealand.
The Tongan government has a strict COVID-19 policy that means people, including aid workers, cannot enter the country unless they have undergone a three-week isolation period.
Aid deliveries have been contactless, with an Australian aircraft forced to return to Brisbane mid-flight on Thursday after being notified of a virus case among the crew.
Aid deliveries expected from Japan and China would also be contactless to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the government said.
An Australian navy vessel, HMAS Adelaide, is expected to arrive in Tonga on Wednesday with more bulk water and a 40-bed field hospital.
The Tongan government was doing “an extraordinary job on the ground”, Mr Taumoefolau said.
The island nation is “deeply appreciative to the international community” for its assistance, the government has said, including $US8 million ($A11 million) in funding from the World Bank and $US10 million ($A14 million) from the Asia Development Bank.