The full impact of the recent volcanic eruption off the coast of Tonga is still to be determined, but what is known is the immediate necessities of life food, water, shelter are required now.
Within 24 hours of the eruption, The Minister for Pacific People, Hon Aupito William Sio and myself were speaking. I consider Willie a friend and a colleague. I expressed my concerns as the National Party Spokesperson and asked how we could help. Willie gave me the first of what has been daily debriefs but what stuck in my mind at the first discussion was the explained loss of telecommunications and how critical this loss was in the short and medium term.
In the back of my mind I was remembering recent New Zealand media coverage of people seeing the linear string of Elon Musk's Starlink communication satellites in our night sky, and with this in mind I immediately penned a letter to Elon Musk.
Imagine if we could make use of the Starlink satellites to help officials and communities in Tonga and would Elon consider contributing to this cause? There are many struggling places in the world that would benefit from a similar gift, Afghanistan, South Sudan to name a few, but this was in our backyard as a unique and rare event which is being reported as equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima bombs. This is different.
Elon is still to reply (he did late on Friday, see below) and to be fair there may be a few technical challenges like ground stations, but maybe a ship-based ground station relaying midway between Tonga and Fiji would work. At the end of the day I believe anyone who can get someone into space and have reusable rocket boosters land back at a launch pad can probably figure this out.
Other conversations in the first 24 hours included conversations with local Northland Pacific leaders Fale Pasifika and the Tongan Church community based in Raumanga. Here is what they are looking to do. They are working to send a container of food and water and materials from Raumanga to Tonga. It is estimated container-related costs alone are $5000 and they are asking for help.
There are three ways to make contact with the Northland relief effort for Tonga. Firstly, the Tongan church at 53 Murdoch Crescent in Raumanga can receive food and water and materials from 4pm–8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm Saturday and Sunday. Second, the Tongan Community Givealittle webpage, and thirdly Fale Pasifika Northland on 0800 825 253 53.
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We are all richer in spirit and deed for the Tongan community and our Pasifika neighbours in our lives and there is no doubt that they would be one of the first to open their doors to us in our time of need. Now we have the privilege of being there for them. How fortunate are we.
After Elon Musk's reply is tweeted at 8pm NZ Time, Friday January 21
On Friday afternoon I tweeted to my Twitter account the letter that I had written earlier in the week to Elon Musk with the words "I guess Elon Musk can only say no and if you don't ask you don't know".
Twitter then picked this up nationally and internationally and at around 8pm NZ time Elon replied: "Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals ?"
This then is an offer to the Tongan community to tweet Elon Musk @elonmusk and let him know if Starlink terminals would be useful to them in their relief effort.