Statement by the Acting Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum & Prime Minister of Fiji, Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum
18 January 2022
This weekend’s shocking images of the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano are forever etched into our collective Pacific memory. As Acting Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, we join the Forum Leaders in expressing our deep concern for the Tongan people. Our region we will not rest until Tonga has mounted its recovery.
We offer the Forum family’s solidarity and support to His Majesty King Tupou VI and Prime Minister Sovaleni and reaffirm that our Forum family stands with the people of Tonga and is ready to provide whatever assistance is needed, including immediate relief supplies.
In recent years, our countries have contended with multiple natural and climate-induced disasters, such as cyclones, droughts, flooding, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, king tides, landslides and other hazards. Last week, Fiji was also impacted by severe flooding caused by Tropical Cyclone Cody. This is our lived reality in the Pacific as we continue to deal with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which further complicates disaster response and recovery.
Pacific nations have experienced volcanic eruptions in the past, such as in Ambae Island in Vanuatu in 2018, but the volcanic eruption in Tonga over the weekend has inflicted a region-wide impact. Apart from Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu were all immediately warned of potential tsunami impact, which struck Nukualofa on Saturday evening with related tidal inundation in low-lying coastal areas in the eastern parts of Fiji.
Assistance to Tonga must be our main priority and we seek the support of all our Forum Leaders and Dialogue Partners. We’re also working with our immediate neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, to mobilise the necessary humanitarian and recovery support. The recovery from this unfortunate event may go on for an extended period. Complicating matters is the ongoing COVID-19 situation, but we will find a way. We always have.
As we look to the future this event reminds us that we need to remain vigilant. We cannot lose sight of any of the many hazards – natural and anthropogenic – that can impact us at a moment’s notice, reversing decades of development gains.
We are praying for the safety of the people of the Kingdom of Tonga.
May we all rally around her in a spirit of Pacific solidarity.