World Tsunami Awareness Day: Eight Tongan families in new homes

Nov 3, 2023

Habitat for Humanity New Zealand has proudly handed over the keys for eight newly built homes in Tonga for families affected by the devastating Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Earthquake and tsunami event in January 2022.  

On World Tsunami Awareness Day (5th November), Habitat New Zealand recognises the devastation that can be caused by these natural disasters and the need for our Pacific neighbours to build back better in the face of future extreme weather events. 

The homes have been built on higher ground on the islands of Tongatapu and Nomuka. Habitat was the first organisation to successfully complete a rebuild effort on Nomuka due to its remote location and supply chain difficulties. 

“This project represents not only shelter, but hope, resilience, and the promise of a fresh start for families who have endured the catastrophic events of last year,” says Alan Thorp, CEO of Habitat for Humanity New Zealand.  

“These homes, are constructed with Build Back Better techniques including cyclone strapping techniques and weather-resistant considerations, ensure the families are more prepared to face harsh weather conditions in the future,” says Mr. Thorp.  


Tonga tsunami rebuild with Habitat for Humanity.

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


‘Eseta is a single mother and caregiver who lost her home and belongings in the disaster. When speaking to Habitat in December 2022 as the rebuild was on-going, ‘Eseta said that seeing her home destroyed was devastating, and her one income would not have stretched far enough to build a new home for her family. However, the anticipated safety and security of a new place to call home was already alleviating some stress. 

 “We do continue to live in fear [but] knowing that our new home is on higher grounds is so reassuring…I still panic when I hear any loud bang thinking we will be hit by a tsunami. Honestly, this project has helped me to overcome my fears slowly, knowing that we will have a home again,” says ‘Eseta.  

“Where we live is very low-lying, when the tsunami came the water level came up to our home. Our house has been affected by previous cyclones and we haven’t had the money to do any maintenance. So the truth is that we are already prone to natural disasters,” says Sione, a community member that has now moved into their new home in Popua. 

“When we found out we were one of the [Habitat families], we were so happy. I have a disability and we have our many grandchildren [living with us] also. With now a new home that is also disability friendly, this is much easier for me and my wheelchair.” 


Tongan family standing on the deck of their disability-friendly home.

Sione and his family standing on the ramp of their new home.


To support these eight families and future vulnerable communities that face the effects of climate change, partnership is key for Habitat.  

This is why the rebuild extended beyond construction; Habitat partnered with the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST) and the NZ based building company Home Foundation to not only erect homes, but also build the skills and capacity of local youth. While contributing to the rebuild, TIST students gained invaluable practical building experience and knowledge imparted to them by Home’s skilled construction professionals from New Zealand. This aspect of the project was crucial for strengthening the long-term resilience of the community and the student’s individual livelihoods, equipping them with the expertise needed to help those around them withstand future extreme weather and disaster events. 

For ‘Eseta, her home was a true community effort with love at the centre. 

“For me personally, it’s not so much about the size of the home because our family will make it a home but knowing and seeing the efforts from the [TIST] students building my home has just been overwhelming,” says ‘Eseta. 

In the long-term, by partnering with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, public supporters, and local organisations on the ground, Habitat is continuing to prepare the Pacific for the future with on-going training and collaborative shelter programmes. 

Habitat New Zealand has a long history of collaborating with Pacific communities to improve access to decent housing and will continue working toward a world where everyone has a decent place to call home. 


Beachfront buildings destroyed by the tsunami on the West Coast of Tongatapu, Tonga.