Overview of the situation
Tropical Cyclone Gita passed by Samoa on 10 February 2018, Niue on 11 February 2018, Tonga on 12 February and Fiji on February 13, as a destructive Category 4 storm. It caused extensive flooding in low lying, coastal and river areas around Savai’I and Upolu. There was widespread flooding especially in the Vaisigano catchment area.
Pacific Humanitarian Team professionals are supporting Government and partners in responding to the immediate health, shelter and water and sanitation needs of affected communities in Tonga. Essential supplies are being sent to support children to return to school and dignity kits for displaced persons. Assistance to support early recovery and education response is now being deployed.
As of 23 February, 205 families are still in evacuation centers as a result of Tropical Cyclone Gita. The number of evacuation centres has decreased from 96 at the height of the disaster to 46, with 41 in Tongatapu and five in Eua. Humanitarian partners continue to support the Government-led response through the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), line Ministries and national clusters. Following TC Gita, more than 1,900 houses and 85 schools have been damaged. There has also been a significant impact on agriculture, with 80 per cent of fruit trees and 50 per cent of root crops damaged.
Government, humanitarian and private sector actors are coordinating action on the ground to provide support and deliver aid to the people in need. In Tonga, which is the most affected island after Cyclone Gita, here are the reported damage.
Last updated: 7 Mar - 02:27 from
Humanitarian relief supplies
- 7 Australian Defence Force (ADF) C-17 Globemaster flights transported humanitarian relief supplies and technical teams
- 135 tonnes of humanitarian supplies were provided
- Emergency shelter tool kits were provided for over 2000 families
- A medical specialist was deployed to conduct a health assessment
- 4 Disaster Assistant Response Team members were deployed to conduct structural assessments of damaged public buildings
- 6 DFAT crisis response experts were deployed to support implementation of Australia’s response
- 2 tents were provided to serve as women friendly spaces
- Solar lights were provided to over 2000 families
Wash and health support
- 1000 dengue test kits were provided to Tonga Health
- Supplies to assist the sexual and reproductive health and safety of more than 2000 women
- 200 clean birthing kits were provided to the community
- 5 large generators to provide emergency electricity to village health clinics and up to 1000 homes
- Early recovery support through civil society partners and the Red Cross Movement
- 20 electrical line mechanics working with Tonga Power Limited to restore electricity across Tongatapu
Last updated: 20 Mar - 10:46 from
by Jesse Doyle
Last month, after Tropical Cyclone (TC) Gita devastated Samoa with severe flooding, it made an unexpected turn and hooked back towards Tonga. I happened to be located in Tonga at the time and my usual sense of calm quickly vanished as the system strengthened from a Category 2, to a Category 3, and ultimately a Category 4. As I frantically stocked up on bottled water and food supplies, I was struck by the sense of calm that permeated the streets of Nuku’alofa as this system was rapidly approaching – many locals were drinking their morning coffees at Friends Café, reading the daily newspaper, or walking the waterfront path that lines Vuna Road. Some had lived through TC Isaac in 1982 or been impacted by TC Ian in 2014, so knew what to expect.
Pacific Islanders are certainly no strangers to natural disasters. If you rank countries globally by their level of natural disaster risk, all Pacific Island countries – aside from Samoa and Kiribati – sit on the dangerous side of the distribution (see Figure 1). Globally, Vanuatu sits at the top of this index with the highest level of disaster risk of any country in the world, whilst Tonga (2nd), Solomon Islands (6th) and Timor-Leste (10th) fall within the top ten. This exposure to natural disasters leads Pacific Islanders to have a higher level of resilience, one necessary to withstand such devastating and repeated shocks.
TC Gita ultimately passed directly to the south of Nuku’alofa and severely impacted large parts of the main island, Tongatapu, and neighbouring ‘Eua. The following morning, before the cyclone had fully cleared, Tongans were out on the road clearing the debris from the night before. The response from the people and Government of Tonga was swift. The UN Humanitarian Cluster system was quick to activate and the major donors provided rapid assistance. However, one element of the response was particularly noteworthy: the Government channelled nearly a million Tongan Pa’anga ($A500K) through their Social Welfare Scheme for the Elderly and Disability Benefits Scheme – the Government’s two core social protection programs. These are two vulnerable groups that weren’t in a position to rebuild the following morning. The cash was quick to be disbursed, given the programs are already operational, and provided funds for their immediate post-disaster needs. The financing was provided by the Australian Government, but drawing on the Government’s SP systems.
This was only the third time that social protection programs have been used for disaster response in the Pacific region, but already there is a strong body of evidence building around the impact this type of response can have. In 2016, following TC Winston, Fiji channelled post-disaster top-up cash transfers through its existing social protection programs. An impact evaluation carried out by the World Bank and the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, which was funded through DFAT and released as a Devpolicy Discussion Paper, showed that three months after the cyclone took place, beneficiaries were more likely to have recovered from the shocks they faced, relative to comparable households that did not receive the additional assistance. This includes having recovered from sickness or injury, repaired their dwelling, replenished their food stocks, remedied the damage to their agricultural land, and repaired village or neighbourhood infrastructure.
Many beneficiaries referred to the top-up cash transfers in Fiji as _Manna from Heaven_ – both unexpected and hugely beneficial. For the Government of Fiji, this was a well-planned and considered response. Fiji’s social protection system has been built over many decades and contains a reliable registry of the poorest and most vulnerable households. Meanwhile, natural disasters will continue to impact large swathes of the population in any given year. Using these systems, which effectively provide assistance to vulnerable populations in normal times, makes even greater sense in the wake of a shock.
The lessons learned from Fiji and Tonga are of great interest to policy makers from across the Pacific. This week the World Bank is jointly organising a conference on shock-responsive social protection with the World Food Programme and the Government of Fiji from March 20th–22nd in Nadi, which is being supported by DFAT. The conference is bringing together a set of stakeholders from Pacific Governments, provident funds, NGOs and civil society to set an agenda on the role that social protection, including cash transfers, can play in disaster response. Natural disasters are here to stay, but this type of _Manna from Heaven_ may well provide a guide as to how Pacific Island governments can help the most vulnerable help themselves.
An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly stated that TC Ian occurred in 2012.
Read the Discussion Paper “Cash transfers for disaster response: lessons from Tropical Cyclone Winston” here.