High-Level U.S. Government Delegation ‘Pivots’ to the Pacific for Site Visit to Climate Change Adaptation Project in Popua, Tonga

Popua, Tonga – The United States Government has made the Pacific region a strategic focus by expanding climate change related assistance to the region. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel traveled February 22-24 to the Kingdom of Tonga where he witnessed one of the fruits of the renewed focus on support to the Pacific, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded (USAID) Evacuation Center in Popua village, Tonga.  Assistant Secretary Russel was joined in Popua by U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu Judith Cefkin, Admiral Scott Swift, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Matt Matthews, and Rear Admiral Vincent Atkins, Commander, Fourteenth Coast Guard District.

The evacuation center was completed in January, just in time for Tonga’s cyclone season, which brings an increased risk of cyclone incidence, as well as gale force wind events and storm surges. The structure is designed to withstand category 5 cyclone winds and is built on a one meter-high platform so that it may also serve as a consolidation point during extreme sea level events and flooding, which plague this low-lying coastal community.

USAID’s Coastal Communities Adaptation Program (C-CAP) built the hall with climate-proof roofing, cyclone-resilient exterior and interior walls, protective grating on the windows, and water and sanitation facilities. The center holds up to 50 people, and will serve as a secure shelter for the community’s most vulnerable residents during extreme weather events, which are predicted to become more frequent and more severe as a result of climate change, and will also be used for day-to-day meetings and social events.

“Climate change is affecting communities all over the world, but perhaps the hardest hit are the coastal communities like yours here in the South Pacific,” noted Assistant Secretary Russel.  “We recognize this great challenge.  C-CAP has been an important component of the U.S. government’s efforts to catalyze adaptation to climate change in the Pacific Islands region. Popua is my first C-CAP site visit and I am happy to say that I’m very pleased with the outcomes of your partnership with USAID.”