Safe haven for three families displaced by Tonga tsunami

Jun 8, 2023

After their houses and belongings were taken by the waves of a devastating tsunami in January 2022, three Tongan families on Tongatapu have now been handed the keys to their new homes by Habitat for Humanity New Zealand.  

Alan Thorp, Habitat New Zealand Group CEO, Erin Rank, Habitat Los Angeles CEO, and representatives from the International Programmes team were thrilled to join the celebration in person alongside the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST), their students who built the homes, and the families themselves. 


Tonga tsunami rebuild with Habitat for Humanity.

One of the three completed Hunga Tonga Habitat Project homes on Tongatapu, Tonga.


The homes have been built with secure cyclone strapping techniques and other weather resistant considerations so the families can enjoy a renewed sense of safety and protection from extreme elements, especially during Cyclone Season. The homes also feature an outdoor ramp for disability access to meet the current and future needs of the resident’s families.  

Habitat’s tsunami rebuild project is delivering a total of eight homes to vulnerable displaced families. There are three more homes nearing completion on Tongatapu, and two homes underway on Nomuka. All five remaining families planned to be settled into their new homes before the 2023 Cyclone Season. 

This project was made possible by generous support from the public and match funding from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Disaster Response Programme.


Tonga tsunami rebuild home dedication, April 2023.

Formal celebration and cultural displays taking place at the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology.




Immediately after the underwater eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai and the following tsunami, communications with the outside world went down.  Once reconnection was established, Habitat began a comprehensive evaluation of the damage to homes and the most vulnerable families who had been displaced. This took place while contending with a COVID-19 lockdown of the Kingdom, triggered by the report of their first community cases only weeks after the disaster.  

When a partnership with the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST) was officially signed in August 2022, construction on the homes could begin. This partnership meant that about 30 third-year carpentry students gained practical experience and put their training into action by helping to build the homes. Habitat and TIST continue to work together to find ways for Build Back Safer (BBS) training to be delivered to community participants.  

A group of qualified builders, electricians, and project managers from the Home Foundation visited Tonga in October 2022 and April 2023. They built alongside the TIST students as well as transferred skills and training to the TIST students that they would not otherwise have been exposed to. Those skills will be invaluable throughout their careers in the trades, benefiting their own livelihoods and the future shelter-resilience of their community.  

Habitat is thrilled to have completed these three homes to date and provide the families with much-needed safe, secure homes. We are looking forward to handing over the keys to the next five homes in the coming months.