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New Zealand Red Cross Responds to Drought in Tonga

New Zealand Red Cross has sent an aid worker and two desalination units, to turn seawater into safe drinking water in the drought-hit Ha’apai islands of Tonga.

Low rainfall in Tonga over the past three months has resulted in extremely low water levels, particularly in the Ha’apai islands, which are still recovering from Tropical Cyclone Ian, which damaged homes and infrastructure, including water tanks and water collection systems.

With only 40 per cent of the population in Ha’apai having access to groundwater sources, the majority of the island’s water tanks have run dry and people are surviving on as little as two litres of water per day and seeking out water from unsafe sources.

People in drought-affected areas are also farming less than usual, which will lead to lower crop production and food shortages.

New Zealand Red Cross Secretary General Tony Paine says the low water levels are creating sanitation and health concerns.

“Ha’apai is one of the most vulnerable island groups in Tonga, people are already struggling and recovering from Tropical Cyclone Ian. People need clean, safe water to maintain good health and hygiene,” Mr Paine says.

Drought in Ha’apai is expected to worsen, with forecasts predicting ongoing dry conditions, and a 50 to 60 per cent chance of El Nino weather patterns, which means a further likelihood of no rainfall and more tropical cyclones. @NZRedCross facebook.com/newzealandredcross.

“We have our fingers crossed for rain, but if the El Nino develops as expected, then it’s likely Ha’apai will experience very dry weather until the end of year and throughout the first half of next year,” Mr Paine says.

New Zealand Red Cross aid worker Dean Manderson, who arrived in Ha’apai on Saturday, will work with Tonga Red Cross Society to set up the desalination units. He will also help raise awareness of sanitation and hygiene in the community and help repair and install rainwater harvesting and conservation systems.

Mr Paine says the desalination units are ideal for small hard- to-reach and isolated communities like those in Ha’apai.

“We are expecting them to be in high demand and plan to help out for as long as they are needed,” Mr Paine says.

The portable desalination units are designed to be set up quickly and sent as rapidly as a person can get on a plane. The desalination plants pack into “suitcases” weighing 32 kilogrammes each.

Requiring only a fuel or power source and a supply of sea water, the desalination units convert a litre of seawater into drinking water per minute. Approximately 4000 litres of drinkable water can be produced each day, enough for 300 people.

Dean Manderson is working in Tonga as part of the New Zealand Red Cross delegate programme which has been running since 1960. The programme is currently supported by funding from New Zealand Aid Programme through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

For more information contact:
Hanna Butler
Communications advisor
p: +64 27 8365529
e: hanna.butler@redcross.org.nz

ENDS