19 Jan 2015

Tonga Red Cross concern at lack of Ha'apai housing

11:41 am on 19 January 2015

Tonga's Red Cross says hundreds of people are still living out of tents and under sheets of roofing iron in Ha'apai, a year since their homes were destroyed by Cyclone Ian.

The secretary general, Sione Taumoefolau, says 4,000 people were displaced by the storm, and it is a concern that only about 50 houses have been rebuilt so far.

He says the government is doing its best to push along the rebuild, but progress has been slow, with many still without a home.

Mr Taumoefolau says the people of Ha'apai are resilient.

"They are a little bit sad because they do not have any housing or shelter. But you know, at the same time, they have something to survive even though they're still staying under the few sheets of roofing iron. But they're still surviving at the moment."

Just 50 of the 200 houses planned to be reconstructed by World Bank funding are complete, despite the whole project expected to be finished by the end of 2014.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also rebuilding about 105 houses, and has completed three.

The secretary to Ha'apai's governor, Kepueli 'Ioane, says construction of all houses should be completed by April.

He says land ownership issues have slowed down the work.

"There are lots of, some issues, for example the weather conditions. And also some problems with land issues. But we are still working hard for the land issues and most of the land is going well at the moment."

Tonga Power says its rebuild of the Ha'apai network following is well on track to be completed by the end of the year.

The Asian Development Bank will fund the US$2.7 million project, after 90 percent of the network was destroyed by the category five storm.

Tonga Power's chief executive officer, John van Brink, says work started in November to rebuild the network and make it more cyclone resilient.

"It's based on upgrading villages moving north from the main town of Pa'angai, and we're well on track. We've got about 15 percent of the work done so far. The work entailing everything from upgrading the high voltage network through to putting underground connections into homes with newer meter boxes and meters."

John van Brink says it has also reconnected about 800 houses not destroyed by the cyclone, and will connect many more as the rebuild is completed.