The 176-island archipelago of Tonga is exposed to a range of natural hazards, including cyclones, earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanoes. Estimated annual losses from these hazards are on average equivalent to 4.4 percent of the GDP. In February 2018, Tropical Cyclone Gita affected almost 75 percent of Tonga's population, which is equivalent to 80,000 people, and caused damages and losses of $164.1 million, equivalent to 37.8 percent of the country's GDP. In January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian affected almost 70 percent of the inhabitants in Tonga’s Ha’apai island group (some 5,500 people) and caused damages and losses of $50 million, 11 percent of the country’s GDP. A small island developing state, Tonga is also vulnerable to the growing geographical, geological and socio-economic impacts of climate change.
Building resilience to natural hazards and climate change is among Tonga’s most pressing development challenges. The government has taken steps to focus on disaster risk management (DRM) and climate resilience by developing a Tonga Climate Change Policy (2016) and Joint National Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and DRM (2010). These follow the development of the National Strategic Planning Framework (2009), which lists resilience to climate change and DRM as high priorities. Additionally, the Government of Tonga has made strides in strengthening its financial resilience to natural hazard shocks and has participated in the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI) pilot program.
To further advance its DRM agenda, national priorities include:
- Increasing the resilience of populations and sectors vulnerable to natural disasters;
- Exploring additional options to strengthen resilience to financial shocks; and,
- Strengthening the resilience of infrastructure, including schools.
Since 2008, GFDRR has supported the advancement of DRM in Tonga and focused on identifying and understanding risks, strengthening financial resilience, and building back better after disasters.
GFDRR supported the Government of Tonga to conduct a rapid disaster assessment that helped the country identify damage, loss, and recovery needs following Tropical Cyclone Gita in February 2018. This led to a $20 million request from the World Bank IDA Crisis Response Window to finance immediate climate resilient school repair and reconstruction and budget support.
GFDRR is also supporting Tonga’s participation in a regional Pacific Resilience Program (PREP). PREP will strengthen disaster resilience, early warning and preparedness, and improve the post-disaster response capacity of participating Pacific Island countries.
With GFDRR’s support, Tonga has been part of a PCRAFI pooled insurance pilot program since 2013. Following the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Ian in 2014, Tonga received a $1.27 million cash payout from this pilot. Tonga was the first country to receive a payment under the program, which allowed for swift post-disaster, on-the-ground response.
After Cyclone Ian, GFDRR helped the government conduct a rapid disaster assessment and a detailed damage and socioeconomic assessment of affected households that helped the country identify damage, loss, and recovery needs. The assessment helped leverage $12 million in World Bank financing and a $2 million grant from the ACP-EU for recovery and reconstruction activities. GFDRR has also enabled the preparation of a cyclone recovery program.
GFDRR anticipates continued demand to strengthen disaster and climate resilience in the following areas:
- Exploring additional financial protection strategies;
- Supporting resilient investments and exploring opportunities for power utilities to incorporate renewable energy technologies and long-term disaster planning;
- Integrating risk considerations into existing and planned education sector investments; and
- Strengthening early warning and preparedness.