The death of nine people, the complete destruction of 79 homes in three villages in an Island on which about 1000 people live – a long way from Nuku’alofa – threw up challenges for the people and the responsible government officials.
Tonga’s disaster management office immediately became doubly important, not just for its general watching brief but also for coordination and provision of relief and reconstruction.
Citizens need to know what their disaster management services can do, and during an incident as harmful as the tsunami, what the responsible agency is actually doing.
Some other countries’ civil defence and emergency management offices regard it as part of their duties to educate their citizens about disaster preparedness – and set up information supply lines in good times that are intended to work in rough times.
Operation Niuatoputapu, recorded on many of the first 100 days since the Niua tsunami, at www.tonganz.net , illustrates some of the issues that Tonga’s disaster management needed to face.
Lessons from Operation Niuatoputapu did not end in the first 100 days, by which time the World Bank had said it would replace about 100 houses.
Tonga’s disaster management office could profile itself, provide briefings on preparedness. Independently, the Centre for Citizenship Education (CCE) and the Tongan Advisory Council (TAC) researched and published the continuing case study of Operation Niuatoputapu, supported by the Commonwealth Foundation.
The case study can be studied more as Tongans consider what knowledge and skills are needed to educate citizens about their government’s disaster management services.
One lesson identified in discussions around the return home to Niua of Wellington priest Fr Mateo Kivalu to do what he could, was
• the empowerment of the people of the three small Niua villages.
The men, women and children of Niua will have their views on what they expect from the Tongan Government’s disaster management office – and the government, non-government and international agencies that can help them reconstruct, and be prepared for the future.
Sadly for Tonga, there have been man made disasters also to manage, illustrated by the 2009 sinking of the Princess Ashika and the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate it.
Sadly too, as the archives record, many hurricanes have wreaked havoc on Tonga.
Sadly too, history may repeat itself – and this means citizens can be helped by being briefed about disaster preparedness – and the profile of who to turn to when the worst happens.