How Prepared is the Kingdom of Tonga? 

The Kingdom of Tonga, situated along the South Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” is exceptionally vulnerable to natural disasters including earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and volcanic eruptions.  

So much so that the 2018 WorldRiskIndex ranked Tonga as the second most disaster-prone country of the 172 covered by the Index. Additionnally, given the social vulnerabilities that island nations in the South Pacific are facing, the Index reckoned that Tonga cannot break free “without external support.”

Should a natural disaster occur, how prepared is Tonga? In order for us to assess Tonga’s disaster risk preparedness, we have sought to answer four questions. 

  1. Does Tonga have a DRR strategy in place? 
  2. Has it been proactively reporting on the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks?
  3. What is the status of implementation? 
  4. What are the biggest barriers to implementation?

Question 1: Does Tonga have a DRR strategy in place?
The short answer is yes.
Question 2: Has it been proactively reporting on the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks?
While Tonga has a strategy that is mostly in line with the Sendai and Hyogo platforms, said strategy is not fully reflected on the Sendai monitor. 

In Oceania, only Australia and New Zealand have effectively reported their scores on the Sendai Monitor for Target E which is a measure that estimates the number of countries and local actors that have Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies in place.

However, while Tonga has not yet done so, the Kingdom has submitted its data readiness report that reviews the availability of data needed to measure the global targets of the Sendai Framework. By glancing over the answers that Tonga provided for Target E, we can infer that Tonga does have a national and local DRR strategy in place. It follows that if Tonga were to actually report final Target E scores, said scores would most likely be in the high margins. 

Sample answers provided by Tonga: 

  1. Do you have a national DRR strategy? Yes
  2. Is your national DRR strategy adopted? Yes
  3. Is your national DRR strategy implemented? Yes
  4. Does the DRR strategy have a clear time frame? Yes
  5. Does the DRR strategy have clear targets? Yes
  6. Does the DRR strategy have indicators? Yes
  7. Does the DRR strategy integrate DRR within and across sectors? Yes
  8. Is the DRR strategy embedded within and across all sectors? Yes
  9. Does the DRR strategy promote policy coherence and compliance? Yes
  10. Does the DRR strategy define roles and responsibilities? Yes
  11. Does the DRR strategy prevent the creation of new risk? Yes
  12. Does the DRR strategy reduce existing risk? Yes
  13. Does the DRR strategy strengthen economic, social, health and environmental resilience? Yes
  14. Is the DRR strategy based on disaster risk assessment? Yes
  15. Does the DRR strategy have a mechanism for follow-up? Yes
  16. When do you plan to align your national DRR strategy to the Sendai Framework for DRR? N/A
  17. What resources do you need to align national DRR strategy to Sendai Framework for DRR? N/A
  18. Which level of government do you consider as local? Please specify.
    Community level is local governance – village level.
  19. Do you have local DRR strategies led by a local government? Yes
  20. What percentage of your local governments has local DRR strategies? Please specify. 98%
  21. Are your local DRR strategies adopted? Yes
  22. Are your local DRR strategies aligned to your national DRR strategy? Yes
  23. Are your local DRR strategies implemented? Yes

However, with the absence of a definition of what constitutes a “sound” DRR strategy, high scores do not necessarily mean that the DRR strategy in place is adequate nor that it is comparable to other countries; each country might have a different concept of DRR. Moreover, Tonga answered “N/A” to questions 16 and 17 which means that it has not yet fully engaged with the Sendai platform.  

Nonetheless, Tonga did report and validate its scores for Targets A and B in 2018 which respectively tackle the reduction of disaster-related mortality and the number of affected people globally. This makes Tonga one of 24% of countries to validate its scores for Target A, and one of 30% to do so for Target B. 

In his address at the 6th session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2019, Mr. Mafua I Vaiutukakau Maka, director of Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) pledged Tonga has established “a work plan to guide a structured process ensure that the data gaps are addressed including the development of consolidated assessment templates.”  

Tonga seems to have made some progress since it last reported on the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2012. The country admitted then to having shortcomings when it comes to establishing systematic policies and instilling institutional commitment; but with JNAPII (covered in the section below), Tonga seems to be on the right track towards disaster preparedness. 


Question 4: What is the status of implementation?
The short answer is Work in Progress
Question 5: What are the biggest barriers to implementation?
Lack of capacity, funding, and technological know-how

In 2010, Tonga was a pioneer in its adaptation of a Joint National Action Plan (JNAP) which provides guidelines for the government to build resilience and reduce disaster risks through an iterative process. In 2018, a revised version of the plan (JNAPII) was released. The plan highlights six targets and strategies to be implemented by 2035: 

  1. Mainstreaming for a resilient Tonga
  2. Implement a coordinated approach to research, monitoring and management of data and information
  3. Resilience-building response capacity
  4. Resilience-building actions
  5. Finance
  6. Regional and international cooperation

The targets laid out are consistent with the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks and are in line with international and regional agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Resilient Development in the Pacific. 

JNAPII aims to provide Tonga with a “country-as-a-whole” approach to disaster management and accounting tools. It was developed with support from the European Union, Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Green Climate Fund, USAID and the joint UNDP-UN Environment NAP-GSP. According to the Tongian Acting Prime Minister Vuna Fa’otusia, through the embedded accounting systems, JNAPII will:  

“Be able to increase the technical capacity of our government and NGO’s and be able to learn more about the projects we will implement in the future. Through this new knowledge we will be better equipped in the adaptive management of resources and close in on achieving our sustainable development goals.”

Despite this pioneering endeavor, as a developing nation, Tonga is still short on funds, capacity, and technological know-how. A full implementation of JNAPII and, by extension the Sendai Targets, can only take place if there is a steady flow of investments from international multilateral funds. In 2012, when the Kingdom responded to the Hyogo reporting questionnaire, there were over 21 occurrences where the government stated in its responses that there is a need for: “capacity”, “financial”, and technological resources. 

To be sure, the financial and technological know-how have improved since 2012 especially that the first JNAP succeeded in attracting donor support for resilience projects. However, there is much to be done, for instance, with regards to improving coordination of donors. Some of the financing of JNAPII will be done through the Tonga Climate Change Fund especially for the Plan’s objective #5. Nonetheless, with an indicative budget for JNAPII estimated at USD 147,173,000, Tonga will definitely be on the lookout for additional funding for the years to come. 

JNAPII Indicative Budget


Lara Eid is a Fulbright scholar pursuing a master’s degree in Global Policy Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs with an emphasis in International Development and a portfolio certification in security studies from the Clements Center for National Security. Overall, she has 7 years of experience in communications and Middle Eastern affairs. She managed, in 2018, the campaigns of three candidates to the Lebanese parliamentary elections and undertook, from 2016 to 2017, extensive research in French, Arabic, and English on over a hundred designated terrorist organizations. She is also the co-founder and former CEO of Hayda Baytak, a local Lebanese NGO that covers the tuition fees of orphan students. Most of her coursework at LBJ has been focused on migration studies and refugee laws and policies.

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