ActionAid partners assess damage after devastating tsunami hits Tonga

Young women trained as emergency first responders are assessing the scale of the damage in their communities after the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted in Tonga.  


The powerful eruption on 15 January was the biggest the world has seen in 30 years and caused an enormous ripple effect across the region with major ashfall and a devastating tsunami that hit communities across Tonga. The government has reported that on some of the smaller, outlying islands the waves destroyed all or most of the houses.  

ActionAid Australia is preparing to respond through the Shifting the Power Coalition, a regional alliance focused on strengthening the collective power, influence and leadership of Pacific women in responding to disasters and climate change. 

After tsunami alerts across the Pacific islands, women trained by coalition partners supported people to reach higher ground and evacuation centres.  

While lines of communication to Tonga remain down due to the destruction of an underwater cable during the disaster, Michelle Higelin, Executive Director of ActionAid Australia, says:  

“We’re ready to support our partner in Tonga to respond and provide emergency relief to the Tongan people whose lives have been devastated by the eruption and tsunami. 

“Recent training activities have prepared young women to respond to the current emergency and assess the scale of the damage to their communities.  

Preliminary reports from our partner in Tonga indicate that supplies of clean drinking water are urgently needed. In addition to immediate relief, such as water, food and shelter, we’re expecting psychosocial counselling support to be a high priority need given the scale of destruction caused by the disaster and its huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.”   

The Shifting the Power Coalition partners, including ActionAid Australia, are standing by to support the Talitha Project, a women’s rights organisation in Tonga, in their locally driven efforts to respond to the emergency and ensure that women, particularly young women, have a voice in the longer-term recovery efforts.  

The Talitha Project is a founding member of the Shifting the Power Coalition established by ActionAid Australia in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam (2015) in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston (2016) in Fiji. It brings together 12 women-led organisations in seven Pacific Island Forum countries and the regional Pacific Disability Forum. 

During recent training in November 2021, the Tonga Young Women Climate Change network, supported by the Talitha Project, developed plans of action in case of emergency scenarios such as a tsunami.   

Young women were empowered to allocate different jobs to family members and organise their community’s preparedness such as storing clothes for protection and locating evacuation centres. These training activities have equipped young women to respond to the current emergency facing the country. They have also enabled Tongan women to connect to a wider network which continues to share updates, preparedness strategies, and planning techniques across the region. 


For more information and interviews contact [email protected] or call +44 (0)7795 642 990 (UK based) or [email protected], +61 (0)414 860 238 (Australia based).  

Notes to editors:

Shifting the Power Coalition: By bringing together a feminist network of women, working together to tackle the climate crisis, the coalition has been able to support diverse young women from seven Pacific Island Forum countries in becoming weather ready and climate smart. The project empowers young women to put forward locally led solutions to climate change and mobilises young women’s leadership to shift the power in disaster management in the Pacific.   

In Tonga, this initiative has seen a growing partnership between The Talitha Project and the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), the Tonga Meteorological Office (Tonga Met), and the Ministry of Health to develop inclusive initiatives.