Cyclone Gita an opportunity to rebuild and make improvements, scholar says

'Oku 'i ai 'a e poupou fakalotolahi pehē ki ha fakahinohino 'a Sione Tu'itahi 'i he lea faka-Tonga 'i he konga taupotu ki lalo 'o e peesi ni hili 'a e talanoa 'i he lea 'Ingilisi.

Tropical Cyclone Gita, which struck Tonga in February, has given the kingdom an opportunity to rebuild, recover and tidy up in all aspects of life, according to a Tongan scholar.

Sione Tu’itahi, an educator, writer and Executive Director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, said people may realise their spiritual, psychological, cultural and economic lives would have to be reviewed after the cyclone.

He said these included people having to pray more and putting into practice the spiritual teachings like helping one another or loving their neighbour.

“As in past natural disasters, Gita can serve as a catalyst for Tongans to pull together at all levels, sharing meagre resources, thus practising once more their essential and ancient wisdom of reciprocity,” Tu’itahi said.

He urged people to never sleep, but wake up and do something such as reducing expenses and spending less.

Tu’itahi said this was an opportunity for Tongans to improve and do things better than before.

“We are in the days of tidying up, recovery and renewal,” he said.

“These are days of building a new nation,” Tu’itahi told Kaniva News.

“If the foundation is right from the beginning the new nation building will last long and advantageous.”

The damage caused by the cyclone had inspired Tongans living overseas to practice their ‘manava’ofa’ and love their homeland and kāinga.

“It teaches our children to renew their love and help one another in their circle of kāinga,” he said.

Donation and damage

As Kaniva News has reported, the government said overseas donors have so far donated TP$52.6 million to Tonga and the money would be spent on the recovery process.

In its latest report on March 11 on the state of Tonga after Cyclone Gita, NEMO said 819 households had  been destroyed and 3889 households damaged.

In its report in February it said the Tongan government, NGOS and overseas aid donors are working to clean up and restore services after cyclone Gita, but 205 families are still in evacuation centres and the country’s agricultural sector has been severely hit.

A 30 day state of emergency which was announced after the cyclone was extended last week for another 30 days.

Director of the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), Leveni Aho, said the fisheries sector in Tongatapu and ‘Eua had been hit hard by Cyclone Gita.

About 40% of fishing boats were damaged and fish fences were damaged.

“By all accounts, overseas media were in awe of the positive attitude and prompt response of many Tongan families and communities to take the challenge by the chin and tarry not. Instead, they rose the day after to rebuild and recover.” Tu’itahi said.

“Sharing both material such as food, clothing and shelter, and tangible wealth, such as loving compassion and care at times of tragedies (and times of plenty too) is not only a Tongan strategy for survival, but is also a core practice for equitable nation building.

It is one for all and all for one. No one is left behind, and those with the least need forego their own needs for their neighbours, who might have suffered more.”

Swells and winds

Tu’itahi said he had seen how his experience had been put into practice after two strong tropical cyclones which struck Tonga in 1961 and 1982.

He said a tropical cyclone affected Ha’apai and Vava’u in 1961. Tongatapu and ‘Eua were not affected. He said the cyclone was not named as the meteorology system at the time did not name cyclones.

Crops, one of the main sources of food, were hugely affected.

In 1982 tropical cyclone Isaac struck Tongatapu and Ha’apai and caused less damage in Vava’u.

It damaged a causeway in Ha’apai as well as a wharf and the foreshore ofn Tongatapu. Huge waves spilled inland and severely flooded part of the western side of Tongatapu, Tu’itahi said.

Tu’itahi recalled two milestone reconstructions after these two tropical cyclone.

After the 1961 tropical cyclone people from the outer islands relocated to the mainland Tongatapu and cleared up a swampy area at the north of Haveluloto in Nuku’alofa before they settled there. Today, that suburb is a commercial hub, with children and grandchildren of those migrant families being well-educated, making leading contributions in many fields to building Tonga, Tu’itahi said.

A new town was built after cyclone Isaac in 1982 as an extension of Patanga village on the eastern side of Nuku’alofa. People who were affected during the storm were invited to settle the town now known as Popua.

Tu’itahi said he had seen great offerings and donations from overseas countries to Tonga in the aftermath of cyclone Isaac.

“This shows us God has made everyone of us to love and help one another. Because we are related and connected and that what would make the fonua became one with the world in peace.”

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