Resilience
Coastline and land damages on Mango Island, Ha'apai, 17 August 2020 (top) versus 20 January 2022. ©FAO.

FAO and Belgium are teaming up to improve food security and livelihoods in Tonga following the devastating volcanic eruption and consequent tsunami

11/03/2022

On 15 January 2022, the Hunga Tonga - Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano in Tonga erupted in a blast that was felt as far away as New Zealand and Alaska. Classified as likely the largest volcanic eruption in the past 30 years, it generated a large ash cloud and a tsunami. As a consequence, four people have been reported dead, 293 houses have been damaged, 2 400 people have been displaced and about 12 000 households (60 000 people) are facing food insecurity. 

The eruption and ensuing tsunami caused significant damage to crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, negatively impacting the agriculture and fisheries sectors. The ash fall coverage on Tonga was extensive and the depth of the ash layer is still unknown. Ash can have toxicological and poisonous effects on plants, livestock and fish, as well as on human health linked to the consumption of foods derived from affected areas. Not only does this have an immediate impact on agricultural production systems, but is expected to have longer-term impacts.

Food security was already at risk prior to the disasters, as 23 percent of Tongans faced moderate or severe food insecurity. Furthermore, 86 percent of the total population (approximately 102 000 people) depend on agricultural or fishing for their livelihood, and 77 percent reside in rural or remote communities that rely primarily on subsistence agriculture and fishing. One out of five people in Tonga live below the national poverty line, and rural poverty is concentrated among smallholder farmers and small-scale fishers who practice subsistence and cash-crop production. Furthermore, 86 percent of Tongans consume 25-35 kg of fish per person annually with higher rates of consumption in outer islands, making it critical to restore fish production.

The global pandemic continues to exacerbate the current disaster conditions. Prior to the volcanic eruption, Tonga had no community spread of COVID-19. Despite the government’s best efforts, COVID-19 is now affecting community health and consequently disaster response. The country is now grappling with measures to protect the health of its people by containing the rapid spread of COVID-19 while supporting those who have been displaced or lost access to safe and nutritional foods.  

Through SFERA, the Government of Belgium contributed USD 400 000 to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to improve the safety, food security and sustainable agriculture-based livelihoods of communities impacted by the eruption and tsunami. With Belgium’s generous and timely support, FAO will reach 1 752 households (8 760 people) in rural areas and fishing communities to support them to resume their agricultural and fishing livelihoods. Agricultural inputs, including seed, tools and livestock feed, will be provided. Additionally, land damaged by the tsunami and ash fall will be rehabilitated and prepared for planting, while local nurseries will also be rehabilitated. Support will further be provided to repair small-scale fishing vessels and provide fishing gear to restore fishing livelihoods. 

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