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Review of top Pacific stories in 2022

Hunga Ha'apai volcano
RNZ Pacific's Bulletin Editor

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — When the Pacific looks back on the year 2022, the Tongan volcano eruption and COVID-19 will stand out.

But there was a lot more going on across the Blue Continent — including climate discussions and political uncertainty.

Here’s a look back in the rear-view mirror.


After intermittent eruptions at the end of 2021, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano became a one-in-1000-years disaster on January 15.

A tsunami hit Tonga after the volcano erupted for eight minutes, throwing clouds of ash into the sky. Entire villages were wiped out by the waves.

Communications went down or were intermittent for those trying to reach loved ones.

Shock waves traversed many thousands of kilometres, were seen from space, and recorded in New Zealand some 2000km away.

Three people were killed, and medical experts said many others showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They thought it was World War III," Amanaki Misa, the Pacific Medical Association team leader stationed in Tonga, said in April.

Scientists have been studying the eruption since. NASA said it caused what is likely the highest plume on record, reaching the third layer of the atmosphere.

Tonga is still recovering, and the eruption will be commemorated on its anniversary in the New Year.


In 2022 the world started opening up again after two years of closed borders and separation.

COVID deaths varied by country —- from 13 in Kiribati and 14 in Vanuatu to hundreds in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Fiji was among the first to reopen its borders at the end of 2021, and a year on, tourism was back with a vengeance - the country welcomed 520,000 tourists to its shores in the 12 months to early December.

An injection of $FJ805 million came into its economy from international visitor arrivals between April and August.

The Northern Marianas had reopened to fully vaccinated visitors by early February, about the same time there were hundreds of cases in Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tahiti and New Caledonia.

Other nations opened to the world a few months later - Vanuatu and Solomon Islands in July, Samoa and the Federated States of Micronesia in August, and the Marshall Islands in September.

The Marshall Islands was praised by health officials for its response to Covid.

"The Marshall Islands has exceeded most expectations to deliver testing and treatment for large numbers of people, and to provide care for those with Covid," said Dr Richard Brostrom, a CDC Field Medical Officer, who spent 10 days in the Marshall Islands during the outbreak in mid-August.


Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea all voted this year.


PNG's election in July was marred by what has been called the most violent election in the nation's 47 years of independence.

There were claims of election fraud, widespread violence, deaths, and major damage to infrastructure across the country.

Fifteen candidates in Enga Province allegedly used guns to threaten civilians in an attempt to derail the election.

People in the Southern Highlands centre of Mendi ran short of food and money because of the general election violence.

Transparency International Papua New Guinea called the election a severely flawed process. Controversy hung over several seats where counting was interrupted or completed ballots were burned, or in areas where there was mounting evidence of vote-rigging.

At the end of it, James Marape retained his seat as prime minister, and said most of the country polled well, describing the issues as a "minor difficulty."

But he said his government would implement changes to try to address issues with transparency and the problems with the common roll, which saw an estimated 1 million people unable to vote.


A surprise, controversial snap election was called in Vanuatu.

The election was triggered after the dissolution of the country's parliament on August 19, by President Nikenike Vurobaravu, and on the eve of a motion of a no-confidence vote against then-prime minister Bob Loughman.

In October, official results revealed a fractured parliament with seven being the highest number of MPs won by a single party.

Concerns were also raised by an election watchdog.

In November, Ishmael Kalsakau was elected unopposed as the 13th Prime Minister of Vanuatu by secret ballot.

At the time of his election, the new coalition government led by Kalsakau was composed of eight political parties.


It took Fiji a long time to decide on an election date.

When they did, there were high hopes for a smooth election which were in the end not to be realised.

The reigning FijiFirst party failed to get an outright majority and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa) - became kingmakers.

They chose to join with the National Federation Party (NFP) and the People's Alliance (PA) for a three-party coalition.

But that was not the end of it.

Reports swirled about flaws in the Sodelpoa in-house voting, claims of violence, and a refusal to concede from incumbent Frank Bainimarama.

On Christmas Eve, Sodelpa chose to go with the NFP and the PA with Sitiveni Rabuka installed as prime minister.


The Pacific took its plea for survival to the world in 2022.

The region fought and begged for a fund to be set up for Loss and Damage mitigation in the region - many countries of which are low-lying and heavily reliant on the environment.

And they succeeded, despite the fund not being on the agenda at the start of Cop27. It is due for launch by 2024.

But it was not all sunshine - world leaders failed to agree on language to phase down all fossil fuels instead of only coal.

Several Pacific representatives expressed disappointment in the summit.

"If we breach 1.5 [degrees], many small islands will no longer exist, and those that do will no longer be a place we want to call home," Ilana Seid, permanent representative of Palau to the United Nations, said.

Tuvalu's Finance Minister, Seve Paeniu - also the Pacific climate champion on loss and damage - called COP27 a "missed opportunity".

Climate envoy for the Marshall Islands Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said there was huge progress, but she was deeply disappointed in the failure to commit to reducing emissions, and the loss and damage decision was not enough.


More than 20 people were confirmed dead and more than 120 others were injured in October after fighting on Kiriwina Island in the Trobriand archipelago of PNG.

A Church Committee member said the fighting broke out from general election-related problems which triggered other issues.

There were multiple layers of issues and tensions involved.

PNG police met with the communities involved in a bid to negotiate peace and order on the island.

Kiriwina Island doctor, Giyodobu Tosiyeru, said the affected communities were receptive and cooperated with police.


It's been a bit of tug-of-war in terms of aid and presence in the Blue Continent.

The US and China have been offering support ranging from funding of infrastructure to police training.

China signed a controversial security pact with Solomon Islands to much consternation from several countries including the US and Australia.

2023 will be an interesting watch.