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How Habitat responds to disasters like the Tongan eruption and tsunami

Jul 21, 2022

In January, Tonga was devastated by the eruption of under water volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, followed by a tsunami. The generosity of our supporters following the disaster has been immense – this was the most successful disaster response campaign in Habitat New Zealand’s history! With the support of our donors and that of the New Zealand Government, we have raised more than $750,000.

Our approach when responding to disasters is considered thoroughly beforehand. Rather than rushing into an immediate response, we take a series of steps to ensure that we are responding where the need is greatest, in the most impactful way. Our intention is not simply to rebuild from the disaster, but to look beyond the disaster to address wider issues related to housing inadequacy, and how our response can look to address those at the same time. This process involves extensive consultation with local communities and established local organisations.

Our response will focus on the most vulnerable families, particularly those with disabilities. As we plan and draw up house designs, accessibility is a key factor.

We’ve devised a special research plan alongside Habitat Fiji in light of current supply chain issues and the shortage of building materials, so we can use local technologies and materials in the rebuild.

A large part of our response is building local partnerships. For this response programme, we are working closely with the Tongan Institute of Science and Technology, training students through our Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Awareness and Build Back Safer programmes, so they have the skills, knowledge and resources needed to repair and rebuild.

Build Back Safer training for Tongan Institute of Science and Technology students began in May 2022 over Zoom, due to the lockdown in Tonga. The training was facilitated by Habitat for Humanity Fiji. In the first training, students learnt how to cyclone strap shelters to ensure they stand strong against severe weather. The Institute are currently scoping, planning and finalising timeframes for our joint repair and rebuild programme.

A large part of our response is building local partnerships. For this response programme, we are working closely with the Tongan Institute of Science and Technology, training students through our Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Awareness and Build Back Safer programmes, so they have the skills, knowledge and resources needed to repair and rebuild.

This is how we ensure long-term impact; Tongan students can rebuild and repair homes in their communities damaged from the disaster, and train others in their community with much needed skills to repair and strengthen their own homes.

Our disaster response work is about more than rebuilding homes. It’s about engaging and empowering the local community to be shelter-resilient, while partnering with experienced Tongan organisations to grow with us as we undertake our response together.

This is how we break the cycle of shelter inadequacy.

Donate to our Tonga response today: https://habitat.org.nz/donate/tonga/