Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The Ministry of Internal Affairs Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality Division (Government of Tonga), Japanese Embassy, UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office (MCO), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is taking a dynamic step forward to respond to needs in the face of the COVID-19 community spread and aftermath of the volcanic eruption and tsunami. The Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) mission has been scheduled, alongside the handover presentation of a storage container and equipment valued over $150,000TOP funded by the Government of Japan in support of the REACH integrated mobile service delivery platform. Technical assistance, as well as an additional $105,000TOP has also been committed by UN Women Fiji MCO to facilitate the roll-out of the mission.
The REACH service delivery project is implemented in Tonga by UNDP with funding support from Japan and UN Women Fiji MCO to strengthen government’s public service delivery and assist citizens’ access to public services with focus on reaching the furthest behind first. It does so through convening service providers across sectors, both from government agencies and civil society organizations (CSOs) taking services to the communities. In the pilot phase in 2018-2019, Tonga REACH platform raise awareness of 575 people about the services and directly delivered 2,175 services in the communities.
To curb the increase of community cases, the Government has successfully implemented measures which include movement restrictions of the public with some necessary exceptions. Unfortunately, movement restrictions inadvertently impact accessibility of services by the public. The REACH initiative will bridge this gap by ensuring that citizens can access public services in all aspects, including administrative registrations, civil and criminal legal procedures, health, social services related to gender-based violence including counselling and referrals, education, and business procedures, with COVID-19 safety compliance in place. Pre-COVID-19, an advance mission would be conducted as part of a needs assessment, however, in lieu of that, REACH will set up a helpline where citizens can contact a call centre state their needs.
Following the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Tonga closed its’ borders to the outside world. This closure contributed to the slow recovery from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold which hit Tonga’s main and outer islands in April 2020. Key infrastructure, the tourism industry, food crops and houses were destroyed during TC Harold. The volcanic eruption and COVID-19 community outbreak in 2022 have now further exacerbated overall delays in recovery.
Minister for Internal Affairs, Honourable Sione Sangster Saulala, who leads the REACH initiative, expressed strong commitment by the Tongan Government to scale up its public service delivery.
“The REACH platform enables the Government to assess the progress of our recovery and deliver public services to assist citizens, who have been taking initiatives to normalise their daily lives. The REACH is a powerful platform for us to put our efforts together to reverse the setback and rebuild communities for the better.”
The REACH platform will also assist the Government in implementing cluster system response plans, a National COVID-19 Plan, including a vaccination strategy, a health awareness campaign, and a plan to support affected families and businesses. The REACH initiative has been adapted to fit the COVID-19 context for Tonga which includes the addition of necessary equipment and supplies such as full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits, including masks, gloves, hygiene items, as well as power banks, batteries, dry bags, reef shoes, life jackets, vests for community police. These have been shipped from Fiji to Tonga through a UN chartered cargo flight.
His Excellency Mr. MUNENAGA Kensaku, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Tonga, who handed over the equipment, said, “The delivery of necessary services to the people is not an easy job especially for an island country, like Tonga. The REACH project can facilitate timely delivery of services by the Government of Tonga even to the people in outer and smaller islands.”
“The number of people who seek governmental assistances has been increasing dramatically under this particular circumstance, with the recent disasters and the increase of COVID-19 community transmission. This is why this REACH project is more valuable than it used to be.”
Part of the REACH services is the legal aid services specialised for assisting survivors of domestic violence and gender-based violence, provided by the Tonga Family Protection Legal Aid Centre (FPLAC) under the Ministry of Justice.
Ms Sandra Bernklau, Representative, UN Women Fiji MCO, said “We all know that globally, violence against women and girls increases after a disaster, and in the last two years since the pandemic began, we have seen an increase in the reporting of domestic violence cases across the globe. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 2 in 3 women in Pacific countries have experienced violence by their intimate partners. Across the Pacific, where COVID-19 has spread through communities, crisis centres report a significant increase in calls to their helplines. Through REACH, and in collaboration with our Government and CSO partners, UN Women remains committed to ensuring women and girls experiencing gender-based violence are able to access survivor-centred services in a safe and timely manner.
Mr Levan Bouadze, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative said “The REACH platform is an initiative aiming to assist people beyond recovery. It assists governments in their duty to take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of human rights. The integrated approach enables the cross-sectoral service providers to address complex and sometimes hidden issues effectively.”
The REACH integrated service delivery project has been implemented in Fiji and Tonga with funding support from the Government of Japan (including UN Women Fiji MCO in Tonga). It has been developed as a revamped phase of the initial initiative since 2015. The project aims to support the commitment and efforts made by Fiji and Tonga to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on Goal 5 for gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls; and Goal 16 for peace, justice and strong institutions.
For media queries, please contact:
Siaosi Fakaosi, UNDP Tonga Outreach Coordination Officer; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: +676 876 4331 / 770 5064
Uieta Kaufusi, UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office; Email: email@example.com; Phone: +676 775 0299