Delays in Tonga's cyclone rebuild leads to 'finger pointing'
Legal problems stalling house rebuilding in Tonga's Ha'apai group.
The delays in rebuilding homes in Tonga's Ha'apai island group have been put down to legal issues and "finger-pointing".
Cyclone Ian devastated the group in January 2014, and there are still 80 percent of people affected living in tents.
A World Bank-sponsored plan to build hundreds of homes has stalled, as health concerns rise.
Alex Perrottet reports.
Most of the 1,100 houses and public facilities were destroyed over a year ago, prompting the World Bank to free up $12 million US dollars in grants and low interest loans. The bank says the funds were received within four months of Cyclone Ian, but 80 per cent of homes are still to be built. The secretary general of the Tonga Red Cross, Sione Taumoefolau, says he's now concerned about sanitation and disease.
SIONE TAUMOEFOLAU: I think there's a lot of finger-pointing at each other now. So I believe they shouldn't blame each other, they should sit down and see how they can go, but the new government is dealing with it now, hopefully by the end of next month, to commit to those 400 houses they are looking for.
Sione Taumoefolau says the Red Cross had started to build temporary houses last year but the Government told them to stop, in light of the World Bank project. He says the funds were then used in the Solomon Islands.
SIONE TAUMOEFOLAU: The authorities they just told us not to build anymore traditional or temporary houses therefore we have other priroties that we are dealing with now. We put the money on the Solomons, because we were on the same time so at the moment I don't have any funds at all.
The newly-appointed Governor of Ha'apai, Mo'ale Finau, says the previous government's policy was not to build on land unless the possessor was also the owner - and that issue has stalled the whole process. He says he has just come to office but will need time to work on each case.
MO'ALE FINAU: Let's say there was this person, who lives on this land for 20 years, but he does not own the land. Let's say the owner of the house lives in New Zealand and has been living in New Zealand for 20 years. I believe it's fair that the house is built for the person who was living in that house all this time in Ha'apai. That's what I mean case by case.
Mo'ale Finau says the new Government appears more keen to rebuild each house, regardless of the ownership issue. The World Bank couldn't comment on the rebuild but says it's preparing for a visit later this month from its East Asia and Pacific Regional Vice President, Axel van Trotsenburg. The bank says he will visit Ha'apai to check on progress. This week, Tonga's new Prime Minister, 'Akilisi Pohiva, and his new infrastructure minister, Etuate Lavulavu, will also be in Ha'apai, and Mr Finau says he has a clear message.
'AKILISI POHIVA: Now it's one year already, most of the people, 80 percent of them are still in tents, so my message to them is to go ahead and finish the work. People are out in the sun, some people are still in tents, it's unfair because the money is here, the fund has already been donated to the Government, so it's way too slow, so my message to them is to go ahead and finish the job.
Mo'ale Finau says some people also want to move inland, but a new seawall to be built this year will be a good defence against future cyclones. The Ministry of Infrastructure did not respond to requests for comment.
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