Tonga eruption may damage environment for years – China sends more disaster assistance

Ecological damage

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it was extremely concerned about the potential impact the massive volcanic eruption in Tonga will have on agriculture and fisheries in the area.

The FAO noted that around 86 percent of Tonga residents are engaged in some form of agriculture, whether it is through crops, livestock or fisheries.

The FAO said ashfall can have detrimental effects on crops and livestock depending mainly on ash thickness, and factors such as the type and growing conditions of the crop, the timing and intensity of subsequent rainfall, the condition of pasture and animals prior to ashfall, and the availability of uncontaminated feed and water.

Xiangjun Yao, an FAO official who acts as sub-regional coordinator for the Pacific islands, said “We’re working to assess how bad the impact of this disaster will be on Tonga’s farmers and fishers and all those who depend on forms of agriculture for their livelihoods and food security.”

Scientists studying satellite images have warned that the huge volcanic eruption in the Pacific island nation of Tonga could cause long-lasting damage to coral reefs, erode coastlines and disrupt fisheries.It has been reported the eruption has been releasing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide – two gases that create acid rain when they interact with water and oxygen in the atmosphere.

“There is likely to be acid rain around Tonga for a while to come,” said Professor Shane Cronin, a volcanologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, according to Al Jazeera. Acid rain causes widespread crop damage and could affect Tongan staples such as taro, corn, bananas and garden vegetables. “Depending on how long the eruptions last, food security could be compromised,” Cronin said.

Satellite imagery suggests the plume is spreading westwards, which could be spare Tonga from some of the acid rain at the expense of Fiji. The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said Fiji was monitoring its air quality and has advised people to cover their household water tanks and stay indoors in the event of rain.

Falling ash could also damage coral reefs, which were already under threat before the eruption. The Tonga Geological Service has warned that volcanic ash can be harmful to marine life and that nearby seawater was contaminated with toxic volcanic discharge. The Geological Service said fishermen should “assume fish in these waters are poisoned or poisonous”.

Professor Tom Schils, a marine biologist at the University of Guam, said that volcanic eruptions such as the one that hit Tonga also release more iron into the water, which can boost the growth of blue-green algae and sponges that further degrade reefs.

Tonga is home to about 100,000 people. The country comprises some 170 islands, of which 36 are inhabited but people also rely on resources from the seas.

Ha'atafu Beach resort has been left flattened by the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. Photo / Ha'atafu Beach Resort
Ha’atafu Beach resort, Tonga, left flattened by the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami. Photo / Ha’atafu Beach Resort 
China sends more disaster assistance

A Chinese naval formation departed from a port in Guangzhou, south China’s Guangdong Province on 31 January 2022 to deliver a new batch of disaster relief supplies to Tonga.

The maritime transport formation to Tonga is composed of an amphibious dock landing ship and a comprehensive supply ship of the Southern Theater Command. It is capable of carrying out multi-tasks and can effectively meet the demands of this task.

The batch of disaster relief supplies include mobile prefab houses, tractors, electricity generators, pumps, water purifiers, emergency food, medical and epidemic prevention equipment totaling more than 1,400 tons.

Before loading, all the supplies were disinfected and sampled for nucleic acid testing.The formation is also equipped with medical professionals and equipment, to enhance its epidemic prevention and medical treatment capabilities. The formation will also provide assistance within its capacity according to the follow-up request of the Tongan side.

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