2022•10•26 Bonn, Germany
On 15 January 2022, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano eruption was felt across the Pacific Ocean and beyond, releasing energy equivalent to hundreds of Hiroshima nuclear explosions and creating supersonic air pressure waves that were observed from space.
In a world highly interconnected by communication and technology, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption showed that the inability to “be online” becomes a vulnerability in the context of extreme events. As the volcanic eruption in Tonga severed the only undersea communications cable servicing the main island, this left people, especially women, without income as many of them depend on remittances from abroad. Tonga could benefit from diversifying its telecommunications systems, such as strengthening satellite services, could help to ensure redundancy by having a backup system when a disaster strikes.
Coastal ecosystems, including mangroves and other coastal forests, seagrasses, dunes and coral reefs protect coastal areas and reduce the energy of tsunami waves. Healthy forest cover can additionally provide shelter and diffuses ash in the aftermath of volcanic eruptions. Many projects in Tonga are focused on increasing coastal protection, for example by restoring mangrove forests or combining them with sea walls or dykes to provide protection and co-benefits like carbon sequestration, high fishing productivity and biodiversity recovery.
Enhancing people-centred, multi-hazard early warning system capacities in Tonga is one of the solutions that could help current and future volcano and tsunami risk. Given that the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano is an underwater volcano and not easily monitored otherwise, investments in satellite technologies are particularly important for monitoring volcanic activities in the region. Combined with community education and international cooperation, these strategies can translate into saving lives and reducing damage from volcano-related hazards.
Tonga’s tsunami early warning system is fairly robust, and is considered part of the reason for the low death toll despite the powerful nature of the volcanic eruption. However, joining existing international networks to strengthen international cooperation would be beneficial for both the Tongans as well as for the international community. Tongans can learn how to better understand disasters triggered by geological settings, and the international community can benefit through understanding the particularities of exceptional events such as the volcanic eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
Since the people of Tonga are largely dependent on the delivery of remittances, increasing social protection and diversifying livelihoods are key risk reduction strategies, especially for the most vulnerable populations. For example, projects that include financial support for women in Tonga could help to address their lack of opportunities and transform their “passive” role into leaders of recovery and resilience in the country.