Piako Post

Eruption should be a wake-up call for the Pacific


OPINION: Communicat­ion links were among the first casualties of the Tonga eruption.

As a result, the outside world has only slowly put together an aid response on the scale required.

Besides the loss of life, the financial impact seems certain to surpass what Cyclone Harold did two years ago, where the harm done to crops, housing and tourism facilities on Tonga was conservati­vely estimated at US$111 million.

This time, the costs associated with the tsunami damage, the volcanic ash cleanup, the contaminat­ion of the water supply and the relocation of entire villages are bound to be well in excess of that figure.

So far, our government has contribute­d about NZ$3 million in humanitari­an aid, and Australia has donated similarly large amounts. Obviously, both countries are only at the early stages of their response.

China, however, had delivered drinking water, food supplies and emergency cash aid to Tonga as early as January 19, with this being the first emergency relief supplies to arrive in the country. A

ceremony was held in Tonga to mark the arrival of China’s relief supplies.

Tonga’s population is only 105,000. Any meaningful recovery will require a decade or more of sizeable inputs of outside assistance.

Some Tongans may simply decide to join the Tongan diaspora, and try to build their future overseas. According to our 2013 census, there were 60,336 New Zealanders who identified as being of Tongan ethnicity, and 22,413 of them stated they had been born in Tonga. Despite Covid restrictio­ns, those figures will be bigger today.

The Tongan community here will be expecting New Zealand to make a major financial contributi­on to their homeland’s recovery.

This is a sign of things to come. The current disaster should be a wake-up call to larger countries in the Pacific region, as a foretaste of what climate change will entail.

The effects of global warming are already evident in some small Pacific states, with worse to come. Yet for all the talk about the Pacific being a fresh area of Big Power involvemen­t, this activity has so far been restricted to geopolitic­al statements of intent, to military flag waving, and to isolated bursts of chequebook diplomacy.

As mentioned, China has been quickest off the mark with its relief effort. To date, the funds allocated by Western powers to the so-called ‘‘Pacific Re-set’’ have mainly gone into enabling Australia and New Zealand to better project military force into the Pacific, rather than into building our capacity to respond to humanitari­an need in a region highly vulnerable to global warming.

The climate change dimension of the Tonga eruption is relevant to all the countries situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Over the past decade, some scientific evidence has begun to emerge that climate change, glacier ice melts and rising sea levels are contributi­ng to the incidence (and severity) of volcanic activity.

Moreover, Auckland University scientists have pointed to historical evidence that when this particular volcano in Tonga last erupted with similar force – exactly 1000 years ago – there were multiple major eruptions on that occasion.

Unfortunat­ely, this suggests that we may not have heard the last from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.

 ?? NZ DEFENCE FORCE via AP ?? A New Zealand Defence Force Hercules aircraft arrives at Tonga’s Fua’amotu Internatio­nal Airport, near Nuku’alofa on Thursday to deliver aid.
NZ DEFENCE FORCE via AP A New Zealand Defence Force Hercules aircraft arrives at Tonga’s Fua’amotu Internatio­nal Airport, near Nuku’alofa on Thursday to deliver aid.
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