Trauma needs to be addressed following eruption - Tonga PM

Recovery efforts continued in Tonga since the eruption and tsunami on 15 January 2022, but prime minister Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said mental health issues in Tonga remain a challenge.

“A lot of people were impacted, it may not be physically but mentally, that’s something we’re trying to address."

Speaking to FBC News, he said much of the trauma that remains is unseen.​

“We may be able to build houses now, but addressing mental health issues will take longer.”

Of the 80,000 people in Tonga affected by the disaster, 28,000 are children. 

Save the Children Tonga country lead Maa’imoa Mafile’o says many kids are still struggling.

“When they hear thunder they always think there’s a tsunami coming. They’re still processing that trauma, it’s a long-term process for them to be fully aware about the tsunami.”

One year on, Mafile’o said children in Tonga continue to show signs of distress, experiencing nightmares and struggling to sleep.

Women and Children's Crisis Centre director 'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki said many people are starting again with nothing. 

“They completely lost their homes and everything they valued. Family heirlooms, ta'ovalas, tapa cloths and mats that had been handed down - that was all taken away from them.”

After living in a church hall for months, residents from the island of Mango settled into their new homes on the island of 'Eua just before Christmas. 

Guttenbeil-Likiliki said they are looking at how to support them in this new environment

“They’re going to have struggles transitioning into this new community, being accepted by the surrounding community and the islanders on ‘Eua, and it’s going to happen at different levels. 

“The children are going to have different experiences, the adults are going to have different experiences, so we have to stand by and be ready to provide that psycho-social support.”


Photo file  Caption: Devastation on Atata Island following the 15 January 2022 volcanic eruption and tsunami