In the late afternoon of January 15, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano in Tonga erupted violently in the South Pacific, sending a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air and triggering tsunami waves that crashed into coastal areas of Tonga. capital, Nuku’alofa, as well as several other low-lying Tongan islands. An estimated 84% of the population, or more than 84,000 people, were affected in the island groups of Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava, with thick volcanic ash transforming the once vibrant Tongan landscape in a lunar landscape.
As soon as the ashes settled and before the tracks were cleared, UNFPA Pacific, the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health, was on the ground, working with the government of Tonga and its partners to s ensure that immediate response efforts prioritized the needs of those affected. women and girls. Volunteers from the Tonga Family Health Association distributed over 250 dignity kits containing basic health and hygiene items such as soap, sanitary pads and underwear in Kanokupolu village, on the main island of Tongatapu – essential items for women and girls so easily overlooked in a disastrous response.
Working with the Australian Government, over 1,500 Dignity Kits and 600 Clean Birth Kits arrived in Tonga aboard HMAS Adelaide. UNFPA Pacific was able to respond so quickly as it keeps essential lifesaving supplies pre-positioned at its regional hub in Brisbane.
“Limited access to reproductive health services puts the lives of many women and newborns at risk in disasters,” said Jennifer Butler, Director and Representative of UNFPA Pacific. “With the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we have been able to act quickly to ensure that the reproductive health needs of women and girls are at the forefront of the humanitarian response in Tonga.
With access to clean water being difficult and damage to infrastructure, including health facilities, still being assessed, the kits will meet the reproductive health needs of over 2,000 women. Essential equipment, medicines and supplies for 10 midwives will make childbirth safer for the 400 pregnant women who are expected to give birth in the next three to six months, while hygiene and sanitation supplies will enable women and girls to participate actively in rebuilding their communities.
With the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the prepositioning of critical reproductive health supplies means UNFPA Pacific is better prepared to respond faster and more effectively in the disaster-prone Pacific region. This ensures that access to vital reproductive health services and supplies is restored immediately after a crisis and continues throughout the emergency humanitarian response.