By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2788

Decades of poverty and plunder make Tonga disaster worse

Issue 2788
A devastated coastline on Tonga

A glimpse of the devastation on Tonga (Picture: NZ Defence Force)

Tonga is still reeling after an underwater volcano erupted 40 miles off the coast of the Pacific country’s main island on Saturday.

The full scale of the destruction remains unknown. But it will have been made worse by decades of inequality and policies that have benefited the island’s royals and rich, multinationals and imperial powers.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga caused huge tsunamis. A series of waves battered the capital, Nuku’alofa, where a majority of the country’s 104,000 population lives and works.

At least three people have died—and many more are reported missing.

Tonga’s 176 islands—36 of which are inhabited—remain covered in ash and many cannot communicate with other islands or countries due to a near-total power blackout. Phone lines and internet services are damaged and down.

Aerial images show entire villages have been wiped out.

On Mango Island, where 36 people lived, at least 20 buildings have been destroyed and one elderly woman died. An evacuation effort is in progress.

On the island Atata, most buildings have been destroyed and holiday resort workers are believed to be missing.

Elsewhere, the US reported flooding in its Pacific territories and Japan experienced waves as high as three metres.

In Peru, two women drowned in Lambayeque, in the north as two metre high waves submerged a truck. 

The devastation will hit ordinary people hard. Many tourism workers have been struggling to hold jobs as the government failed to provide support during Covid-19. And farm and industrial workers will now have to rebuild their workplaces and start anew. 

Some 27 percent of the population is deprived, living in low income households, and youth unemployment stands at 40 percent.

Wages remain incredibly low—the average annual income was just £3,452 according to the World Bank.

Money made from tourism rarely remains in Tonga as multinational companies soak up the majority of the profits and pay poverty wages. On average, a hotel concierge earns just £181 per month. 

But the royal family and business-owning elite live in luxury. 

As money is concentrated in the hands of the few, much of the disaster relief is left to charities or the people themselves.

Meanwhile, imperialist powers will try to use the crisis for their own advantage as aid comes with strings attached.

Tonga already receives aid from the US—both economic and military—in exchange for supporting US wars and interests. But that doesn’t benefit ordinary people on the islands.

Further eruptions are likely and Tonga can expect more natural disasters.

More investment into monitoring systems, emergency response programmes and better infrastructure is needed. And there needs to be a reckoning with the elite and its imperialist backers that hoard the money for themselves.

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