New Zealand’s flood- and slip-prone regions do not have the mechanisms in place to cope with rapid environmental changes brought about by the climate crisis, Jacinda Ardern has said after visiting the aftermath of a monster storm.
The prime minister was touring the site of devastating flooding and landslips around Nelson, at the top of the South Island, when she was asked if she was satisfied that New Zealand had the framework and investment to cope with weather events that are becoming more frequent.
“No I’m not, which is why we’re doing the national adaptation plan, which is why we will continue to work with local government,” she replied.
The prime minister spent Monday morning in the hard-hit Nelson region, which received more than three times its average August rainfall in four-and-a-half days last week.
The full scale of the damage won’t be known for some time, as many areas are still flooded and more rain is expected, but hundreds of homes are awaiting assessment.
A handful of houses have already been ruled uninhabitable. Half of the 400 damaged homes were still awaiting assessment by geotechnical engineers on Monday morning.
Rachel Reese, Nelson’s eldest, told a news conference on Monday the recovery would take years. One of the region’s major highways remains closed due to slips, with a new assessment of the damage expected on Tuesday.
Ardern expected a “long recovery” from the Nelson floods, the latest in a string of weather disasters New Zealand has faced as the result of the climate crisis, she told reporters on her second day visiting the region.
She warned the environment was changing “at a rapid pace” and infrastructure readiness had not kept pace.
New Zealand must “do all we can as a country to lessen the impacts of climate change”, she added.
“We’re doing national adaptation planning at present, but we need to go down and look at how that will play out at a local level,” Ardern said, referring to her government’s plan to protect against the effects of climate-driven disasters, released earlier this month.
One in seven New Zealanders, or 675,000 people, live in areas prone to flooding, and another 72,065 live in areas projected to be subject to extreme sea level rise. Parts of the country have also been ruled uninhabitable due to earthquake risk.
The government must ensure local councils had the data needed to ensure safety and disaster preparedness when building new infrastructure, Ardern said.
The body that advocates for New Zealand’s local government sector said that the national adaptation plan was promising but more urgent short-term solutions were needed for councils dealing with weather crises, and its leaders would be pressing Ardern’s government for action this week.
“We could be waiting for the best part of a decade to see any practical changes bed in,” said Susan Freeman-Greene, the chief executive of Local Government New Zealand.
“Many councils are already mapping out flood prone areas, but we need a more cohesive approach.
“It’s about local and central government working alongside insurers and others at the coalface such as engineers to build a dataset that’s consistent across the country.”
IAG, New Zealand’s largest insurer, said this month the country had faced 10 major floods in the past two years, with total insured losses of about $400m, and urged an end to building in flood-prone places.
“It’s not just about building on high ground,” Ardern said on Monday. “We also have to take into account slip risk.”
In Wellington, the capital city, council officials said on Monday that there had been more than 600 slips due to wet weather since 1 July, with 170 of them in the past four days. Some roads in the city are closed due to slips, with more rain expected this week.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism