A multinational task group led by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has started community projects aimed at improving water storage and sanitation in two main islands in Tonga’s Ha’apai island group.
Lieutenant Colonel Josh Wineera, NZDF Task Force Commander and Senior National Officer, said construction work being undertaken as part of Exercise Tropic Twilight 2016 was well underway in Lifuka and Foa.
Nine 10,000-litre water storage tanks are being installed at churches, the fire station and city hall in Pangai, the administrative capital village of Ha’apai. One of these tanks will be placed at the community hall in Faleloa, the home village of Tongan-born All Black midfielder Malakai Fekitoa.
Engineers from His Majesty’s Armed Forces Tonga (HMAF Tonga), the New Zealand Army, China’s People’s Liberation Army and the United States Army are also building a toilet block near the Pangai Ferry Terminal, a high-traffic location.
“Our international partners and Tongan colleagues have fully integrated with our NZDF personnel and we are working together to make tangible improvements to the local infrastructure. These projects will surely make a positive difference to the local community,” LTCOL Wineera said.
Medical personnel from New Zealand and Australia, meanwhile, are conducting environmental health tests to assess the risk of communicable diseases to the local population. US Army soldiers are also operating a desalination system that provides a supply of potable water to the multinational task group.
“New Zealand and Australian environmental health officers are working with Tongan medical staff on vector monitoring. They are checking mosquito traps and will teach the locals how to recognise certain species that might carry such diseases as dengue fever or the zika virus,” said Flight Lieutenant David Pennisi, Senior National and
Environmental Health Officer from the Royal Australian Air Force.
Tongan officials are impressed by the industry and enthusiasm of the multinational task group.
“It’s great to see the Chinese, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Tongan soldiers working alongside each other. This contingent is clearly well-led and they have an inclusive and respectful nature about them; they have a good sense of humour too. I also like how the junior non-commissioned officers are trusted to go about their work and make decisions,” said Commander Brisbane Lokotui, HMAF Tonga’s liaison officer.
About 40 personnel from the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, half of whom are engineers and tradespersons from the Army’s 2nd Engineer Regiment, are working alongside engineers from Tonga, China and the United States as part of Tropic Twilight. The NZDF contingent also includes medical, dental and logistics specialists.
The recurring humanitarian activity, which is focused on disaster relief operations, is being conducted this year in Tonga from 7-29 July. New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funding the projects being delivered as part of the New Zealand Aid Programme.