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Tonga: An archipelago on the frontline of climate crisis | Climate | DW

Tonga: An archipelago on the frontline of climate crisis | Climate | DW

Tonga billowing ashes from volcanic eruption

Where is Tonga located?

TongaThe Pacific island region of Polynesia is where the archipelago is located. It can be found east of Fiji, south Samoa, and north of New Zealand. The archipelago, formerly known as the Friendship Islands, belongs to the Pacific Ring of FireThe Pacific Ocean is surrounded by a volcanic belt from three points. The total area of the island nation is 747 km2 (around 288 miles). It is comprised of 172 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. Tonga’s tropical climate is divided into two seasons. There is a hot, humid phase from December through April and a less intense, rainy season between May to November.

Who lives in Tonga

The archipelago’s 36 inhabited island are home to approximately 105,000 people. According to a 2016 census, 97% of the population is Polynesian and 3% are Chinese, European, or residents of other Pacific islands. With an average age of 24 years, the population is young. In comparision, the average age in Australia is 38, and 44 in Germany.

Why are there so many earthquakes in Tonga??

Earthquakes and tsunamis occur repeatedly along the 40,000-kilometer-long Pacific Ring of Fire. The 2021 World Risk Report by “Bündnis Entwicklung hilft”, an alliance of nine German development and relief organizations, ranks Tonga third among the countries with the highest risk of an extreme natural event turning into a disaster.

Tonga billowing ashes from volcanic eruption

The volcanic eruption spewed as much ash into the sky.

Tonga has been the victim of three natural disasters over the past 12 year. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Tonga on February 13, 2010. Two days later, a strong cyclone swept across Tonga with wind speeds of up 228 kilometers an hour.

On January 11, 2014, a hurricane decimated the archipelago, particularly the Ha’apai Islands with Lifuka as the main island. Hunga Tonga Ha’apai, an underground volcanic active from time-to-time, erupted once more on January 15, 2022, triggering another seaquake.

Rising sea levels, a rise in floods, hurricanes and rains due to global climate changes are some of the country’s most serious environmental problems. According to the World Bank’s Climate Portal Extreme weather events will continue increasing in the future.

What kind of an economy does Tonga have?

Tonga is a country with a lower median income (MIC) according to the World Bank. MICs are those countries where the per capita income is between $1,036-12,535 per annum.

The country’s economy is facing a crisis. Tourism, the country’s second-most important source of foreign exchange income, has almost been stopped by the coronavirus pandemic and its strict entry bans. The country’s agriculture sector is highly developed and accounts almost one-fifth to the gross domestic products. But, weather events and fluctuations in world market prices can affect its agricultural sector. Vanilla and fish are currently the most important export goods.

The country’s number one foreign exchange earner, however, are remittances from Tongans working abroad, in particular in New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia. Money sent from Tongans working overseas increased from $102 million (€ 89.4)  to $142 million between 2014 and 2020, according to The Global Economy platform.

Who governs Tonga

Since 1875, Tonga is a constitutional hereditary monarchy. It became independent of Britain in 1970. In November 2010, the majority members of parliament were elected directly by popular vote. Since December 15, 2021, the country has been  led by a new government under Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni, elected by parliament and officially appointed by King Tupou VI.

Children up to the age of 12 are required to go to school, fees for secondary schools are low, and scholarships are available for further education abroad. 98% of the population is literate.  The University of the South Pacific is jointly run by Tonga and 11 other islands states.

Germany and Tonga signed a “perpetual friend treaty” in 1876, under King George Tupou II. This was renewed by the Federal Republic of Germany on 1977. Tonga is an independent Commonwealth member and has been a member since 1999.

This article has been translated into German.

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