Tonga braces for Cyclone Winston: Zika virus added factor

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 18 Feb 2016

As Cyclone Winston bears down on Tonga, Oxfam is preparing a two-pronged response: assisting local communities to recover from possible cyclone damage and ensuring any spread of the Zika virus is minimised.

Earlier this week, Cyclone Winston tracked closely near Vanuatu then turned towards Tonga, crossing the island of Vava’u as a Category Two, causing power outages and damage to crops. Winston then left Vava’u but stormed back towards the islands.

It’s now a Category Three and is picking up speed and is expected to increase in strength to Category Four as an intense Tropical Cyclone, with maximum sustained winds of 200-210 kph as it reaches Vava’u a second time.

Oxfam is ready to send emergency staff to the South Pacific nation if needed, to assess the situation on the ground to identify the most urgent needs. We are also working closely with the Tongan Government to monitor threat of the Zika virus.

Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Manager Meg Quartermaine said Cyclone Winston was the second to hit Tonga this year.

“Oxfam is supporting its community partners and we are ready to respond with emergency supplies to those affected should they need it. Our water equipment is on the ground and ready to go – with enough supplies to provide 8,000 people with safe water,” Ms Quartermaine said.

“We must remain particularly vigilant because of the presence of the Zika virus in Tonga, where an outbreak was confirmed earlier this month. Oxfam is working with our local team to ensure a coordinated safe water, sanitation and hygiene program to minimise the risk.”

Oxfam, along with its partner Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC), operates virgin coconut oil and organics programs throughout the country and is working to prepare for an appropriate and coordinated response.

In January 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian ripped through the Ha’apai islands in Tonga, destroying buildings and homes. Oxfam launched an emergency response, providing access to safe water, ensuring sanitation needs were met, and helping people recover their livelihoods so they could earn a living and support themselves and their families.

Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency responses can be made online at

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