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Biden Administration Continues to Prioritize Response to the 2022 Hunga Tonga Volcano Eruption and Tsunami

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders Coordinates with Tongan American Community Leaders and Across Government on Response, Recognizes Toll of Disaster on Pacific Islanders in the U.S. and in the South Pacific

WASHINGTON, DC—The Biden Administration continues to prioritize its response to the 2022 Hunga Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami. On January 14, 2022, Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted and triggered tsunami waves that reached Tonga and many other Pacific Island countries. The natural disaster has affected Tonga’s housing, public infrastructure, and air and water quality. The Biden Administration has increased its assistance through several coordinated efforts. Read the U.S. Department of State’s statement here.

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners are working to address food security, agriculture, livestock, and shelter needs among the most affected communities.
  • A U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) naval vessel—the USS Sampson—and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel—the USCGC Stratton—supported initial life-saving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga. While USS Sampson’s support to Tonga concluded on February 4, USCGC Stratton will continue to operate in the area and is prepared to support any additional requests from the GoT.
  • Both USS Sampson and USCGC Stratton worked with Government of the United Kingdom, Government of Australia, Government of New Zealand, and Government of France allied naval forces to support the GoT following the volcanic eruption.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI), established by President Joe Biden through Executive Order 14031, is charged with coordinating a whole-of-government approach to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

“We recognize the impact of this devastating crisis not only on the people of Tonga, but also on the Tongan American community in the United States, many of whom still have family in and deep ties to Tonga,” said WHIAANHPI Executive Director Krystal Ka‘ai.

Immediately following the eruption and tsunami, on January 15, WHIAANHPI connected with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community leaders, including those from the Tongan American community, to ensure their voices were included in the federal government’s response. In response to community requests, the White House Office of Public Engagement and WHIAANHPI hosted a briefing on January 28 featuring speakers from the U.S. Department of State and USAID on the Biden Administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Tonga.

“We have always prioritized communication with the Pacific Islander community and have been in close touch with Tongan American leaders since the tragic disaster in Tonga,” added Ka‘ai. “As a connector and convener, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders stands ready to continue listening to impacted communities and elevating the needs of the Tongan American community within the federal government.”

USAID provided an additional $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance to support people affected by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves in Tonga. This funding is in addition to an initial $100,000 in immediate assistance and longstanding programs in Tonga that were already responding to urgent needs.

In reiterating the Administration’s commitment, said Tiare Eastmond, Regional Advisor of the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Honolulu field office, during the January 28 briefing, “Culturally appropriate aid delivery [is] absolutely crucial and at the forefront of our mind. That's why we have existing partnerships with local organizations, so these are Tongans in their community working to identify the most vulnerable, with an emphasis on disabled persons as well as elderly. We want to make sure that nobody is left behind in this response.”

To learn how you can help, visit USAID’s webpage here.

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The White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI), established by President Joe Biden through Executive Order 14031, is charged with coordinating a whole-of-government approach to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

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