TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Response underway in Tonga
In Tonga, response efforts are underway further to last weekend’s volcanic explosion and tsunami. Authorities have evacuated around 150 people whose homes were destroyed. Assessments are underway to determine the full extent of the damage, with more than 80% of the country’s population affected.
With the partial resumption of communications, members of the Tongan diaspora have been able to send money to families and loved ones in the Kingdom. This has allowed people to buy water and food. However, it is expected that there will be food shortages in the coming weeks, as ash has damaged crops and gardens.
International assistance has been mobilised on a huge scale from within the region and beyond. Pacific representatives to the United Nations have expressed their countries’ support for Tonga and stressed the importance of response efforts being led by national authorities.
COVID across the region
COVID-19 is making its presence felt in countries that have so far had minimal exposure to the health impacts of the pandemic.
In Solomon Islands the number of confirmed cases is more than 350. However, authorities believe that the real number of infections is considerably higher. Community transmission is established in Honiara and in other areas of the country.
A chartered flight from Fiji to Kiribati resulted in 36 cases arriving in the country and there have been further transmissions to frontline workers. A lockdown has been imposed, including a 24-hour curfew other than for essential workers.
In Samoa, there were fifteen cases on a repatriation flight that arrived from Brisbane. There have now been a further five cases identified in the community. The government has announced a lockdown that will end on Thursday night (Jan 27).
Palau has seen a huge number of cases recorded, having previously had zero community transmission.
Australia to support refurbishment of ports in PNG
The governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia have agreed on a funding arrangement focused on port repairs and upgrades throughout the country.
The funding amounts to AUD 580 million and will be provided through a mix of loans and grants. This deal was originally agreed in the middle of last year but this latest announcement reflects an increase of AUD 160 million. It comes at the beginning of what will be an election year for PNG.
The works are expected to focus on key locations, including Lorengau on Manus and Vanimo in West Sepik province. Some of the port infrastructures in PNG are over 70 years old and have not been well maintained or upgraded during that time.
The PNG government has welcomed this agreement, saying it will help achieve the objectives set out in its Ports Infrastructure Master Plan that was launched last year.
West Papuan organisation launches petition in Vanuatu
The Vanuatu Free West Papua Association is calling on citizens to sign a petition. The purpose of the petition is to persuade the government of Vanuatu to reaffirm and strengthen its position in favour of the self-determination struggle of the people of West Papua.
Vanuatu has been a steadfast supporter of the Free West Papua movement and has spoken out against Indonesia’s alleged abuse of human rights on many occasions, including at the United Nations.
The Vanuatu Free West Papua Association (VFWPA) wants to see the Vanuatu government pursue actions at the regional and international level to allow for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit West Papua. They are also calling on the Loughman government to ban the “West Papua Today” publication claiming that it is a vehicle for anti-Melanesian propaganda. The VFWPA points to several civil society groups it says support the positions it is taking.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.