Heavy Rains Cause 'Extraordinary Flooding' In Tonga's Remote Fonoifua Island

Health officials concerned about potentially contaminated water from pit latrines

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 9, 2017) – Extraordinary flooding on Fonoifua Island, Ha'apai last weekend is concerning Tonga's National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).

This is the first time severe flooding has occurred on the small island after prolonged rainfall, raising health concerns after homes were contaminated with water over one meter-deep in places.

No one in government is sure how rainfall managed to flood the small low-lying island in the Ha'apai Group, and they are working to better understand the event.

"We are experiencing something extraordinary...This is the start of a new issue with climate change and all that," Leveni 'Aho the Director of NEMO told Matangi Tonga this afternoon. NEMO has deployed an emergency team to the island this week to help its population of 70 people, who were flooded out of their homes. Half of the island's population are children and include a baby.

Leveni said on Sunday March 5 the town officer at Fonoifua Island, Feleti Faha'ivalu had alerted the Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni - sending him a photo of the extreme event. "We found out about the flooding from the Minister for MEIDECC Hon. Sovaleni."

Prolonged rainfall

The flooding, caused by prolonged heavy rainfall on March 4-5, caused residents to evacuate their homes and take shelter in the Government Primary School, the only building not flooded. 

Water levels reached more than one meter and homes located on low-lying areas had water coming up to chest level. Six homes have lost all their furniture and contents.

NEMO reported that emergency relief supplies of hygiene kits, blankets, tarpaulins, kitchen kits, flour, rice and sugar were shipped to Fonoifua Island on March 6. 

Health team

Leveni said that yesterday they also deployed a Health team consisting of three Health Officers including Dr Tevita Vakasiuola, as well as the Governor of Ha'apai, Mo'ale Finau, and NEMO officer, Tesimoni Taufateau, as part of the WASH cluster program that looks after water, sanitation and hygiene in disaster affected areas.

Because most of the island's 19 households rely on pit latrines there is a health danger from the contaminated water. 

He said the team sprayed the flooded area to curb water borne diseases earlier today. They also took samples of flood water for testing to Pangai today and expect the results will be released tomorrow, Friday.

With regards to food security, Mr 'Aho said residents would have to rely on breadfruit and hopa which were not affected. Residents have been warned that their roots crops are not edible right now because the ground is still waterlogged with contaminated water.

He added that a NEMO officer would go back to the island to monitor the health and food situation there either this weekend or early next week.

No casualties were reported and as of this morning, the flooded areas had completely dried out with residents returning to their homes to begin cleaning and salvaging what they can.

Tonga's Meteorology Department told Matangi Tonga up to 112 mm of rain fell on the Ha'apai Group over a 24 hour period causing the flooding, the highest so far recorded this year.

Last year in May, the highest rainfall in the same area was recorded at 274.3 mm over a 24 hour period, more than double this year's rainfall.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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