Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of 176 South Pacific Islands (36 of which are inhabited) that lies to the south of Samoa, southeast of Fiji and northeast of New Zealand; with a population of 104,494 people (World Bank, 2019). The islands are divided into four main groups – Tongatapu, Ha'apai and Vava'u and the Niuas. The country is predominantly rural, with around 25% of the population living in urban areas.

A young Tongan girl smiles at the camera
Caption: A young girl, smiling at the camera.
Photo: © UNICEFPacific/2015/Sokhin

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and is unique among Pacific nations for having maintained its independence from colonial powers. Tonga is a lower middle-income country with reasonable health and education status, although rates of poverty and inequality are rising amongst the most vulnerable groups. Tonga is reliant on external income through development assistance, loans, and overseas remittances from the large Tongan diaspora. Tonga lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of dynamic geological activity. It is ranked the second most vulnerable country to natural hazards (after Vanuatu).

Tonga has a mixed record on promoting gender equality and has not ratified The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Women’s political participation is limited, with three women national Members of Parliament. Women’s work force participation is highest in the informal sector. Two out of three women report experiencing gender-based violence.

UN presence in Tonga

The UN has been present in Tonga since 2011, with 16 agencies implementing programs: FAO, ILO, IOM, UNDP, UNCDF, UN Environment, UNESCAP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNISDR, UNOCHA, UN Women, WFP, WHO and WMO.

Development goals and objectives 

The United Nations Pacific Sustainable Development Framework 2023-2027 is a five-year strategic framework that outlines the collective response of the UN system to the development priorities in 14 Pacific Island countries and territories, including Tonga, and supports governments and peoples in the Pacific to advance a localised response to the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN Pacific Sustainable Development Framework complements the Tonga Strategic Development Framework 2015-2025: “A More Progressive Tonga: Enhancing Our Inheritance”; particularly in environmental and natural resource management, infrastructure and technology, and social, economic and political institutions.