HA’APAI, TONGA  – The Prime Minister of Tonga, ʻAkilisi Pōhiva, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President, Stephen P. Groff, and New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga, Sarah Walsh, today participated in an opening ceremony and formal handover of schools rebuilt and refurbished after they were damaged by Cyclone Ian in 2014.

Prime Minister Pōhiva was pleased that the schools reconstruction was completed before the opening of the new school year. “The Government of Tonga values our relationship with ADB and the Government of New Zealand. We appreciate their support for rebuilding more climate resilient primary and high school facilities on the Ha’apai Island Group. As you know, Tonga has one of the world’s highest exposures to natural disasters so it is vital that our schools are climate-proofed.”

After the ceremony, the officials met with teachers and children from communities around Pangai Government Primary School to discuss their impressions of the new school facilities.

“The new, refurbished schools on the outer islands of Ha’apai have been built back better to be more resilient to extreme weather and the effects of climate change, such as Tropical Cyclone Winston, which passed through last week,” said Mr. Groff. “This project is helping Tonga improve the delivery of education services on Ha’apai. ADB provided $4.5 million toward schools reconstruction and the restoration of the entire electricity network on Lifuka and Foa.”

“New Zealand is always ready to assist our friend and neighbor, the Kingdom of Tonga, in times of need. As such, we came forward in the immediate aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Ian and committed US$6.3 million (NZ$7.4 million) to help with damage assessments, relief supplies, restoration of the electricity network and longer term reconstruction efforts”, said New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga, Sarah Walsh. “We were pleased to work with ADB on the reconstruction of badly damaged schools given their expertise in implementing climate-resilient infrastructure projects,” she added.  

On 11 January 2014, the worst tropical cyclone to hit Tonga in decades slammed into the country’s northeast island of Ha’apai, causing widespread devastation. The category 5 storm, with winds of more than 200 kilometers per hour, affected two-thirds of the population of about 8,000. The storm flattened houses,  uprooted trees, destroyed 90% of power lines and severely damaged or destroyed more than half of Ha’apai’s 31 primary and secondary schools.

By the end of 2015, 12 primary schools have been reconstructed or refurbished, ten of them with cofinancing from the Government of New Zealand. The school rehabilitation project has allowed classes to resume sooner than expected in a safe, clean learning environment, and will reduce the number of days that schools are closed during and after future disasters. Reconstruction of the Ha'apai high school is also underway, and classrooms have been refurbished prior to the start of the school year. The remaining work will be completed on schedule by June.

In the energy sector, ADB helped restore power to 1,000 households, and fixed over 45 kilometers of power lines. The project also upgraded Ha’apai’s main electricity network, making it more resilient to extreme weather events to ensure future delivery of reliable power supply.

ADB has significantly scaled up support for Tonga in recent years. Since 2008, ADB has committed over $70 million, more than in the entire period since Tonga joined ADB in 1972, with most of the financing on grant terms. ADB helped finance Tonga’s first Internet broadband cable in 2013, made improvements in water and solid waste management in Nuku'alofa, promoted renewable energy in the outer islands, and supported government reforms and service delivery, among other projects.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region.

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