Aftermath of Flooding in Canterbury

Aftermath of Flooding in Canterbury

Gov’t assesses flood damage

The Government has declared an adverse event for Canterbury, unlocking government support for farmers and flood recovery measures.

Up to 400mm of rain has fallen on parts of the region causing widespread flooding and significant damage to property and the road network.

In a visit to the region on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor surveyed the damage by air of the flood event that ravaged the Ashburton District, forcing the closure of more than 20 rural roads and six bridges, now including the Ashburton River bridge at State Highway 1.

The three days of floodwater took its toll on the Ashburton bridge early Tuesday morning forcing its closure, and dividing not only the town, but the South Island.

Engineers confirmed the damage causing subsidence in the piles is significant.

“It won’t be days, it could be weeks before the bridge will be repaired,” Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said.

With several significant road and bridge closures already in the district there is no immediate alternative route through Ashburton.

Authorities are working hard to open a route by Tuesday evening.

“The obvious alternative, Thompsons Track, has five to six breaches and we have pulled all stops with shingle, and diggers and culverts being trucked in and hopefully it will be open tonight,” he said.

Arden said the number one focus is connectivity.

“The priority is to reinstate a connection for the town and for the South Island,” Ardern said.

In her fly over the district, Ardern said it was an opportunity to assess the damage to get a sense of how much work will need to be done.

Gov’t classifies event & allocates support funding

Farmers asked for roads to be fixed, bridges repaired, power back on, in general the resources to mop up.

Ardern assured that attention will be given to provide farmers the support they need.

“That’s what we are here for,” she said.

O’Connor says the decision to classify the flooding as a medium-scale adverse event ensures funding of $500,000 for flood recovery measures.

“The funding will help speed up the recovery of farming businesses and includes wellbeing support and specialist technical advice,” O’Connor said.

“The money will be used for recovery grants to enable Rural Support Trusts to provide extra help to farmers, and for other flood assistance where needed.

“We will continue to assess whether further support is required as the full extent of the flooding becomes clearer.

“Based on the advice I have received from Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff based in the area, the scale of impact is beyond the communities’ ability to cope.”

Scroll back to the advent of Covid 19

With the advent of Covid 19 throughout the world, New Zealand took the decision to lockdown and try to prevent the pandemic from entering our country. As part of that lockdown businesses across the whole country were seriously affected and our government stepped up and announced support packages to prevent an unprecedented level of business failures and unemployment from occurring as a result of the effects from Covid 19.

There has been support given to businesses in New Zealand, which amounted to billions of dollars over the past couple of years.

The pandemic was a nationwide emergency and as such many businesses nationwide needed the support that was offered.  

Back to the current weather event

The weather bomb that hit the South Island and particularly the outcomes from that in relation to flooding on the Canterbury plains while being a localised event specific to the Canterbury region, still has the effect of putting many rural people in danger of losing their livelihoods and all of their assets.

Along with the effects on the local people there are also serious effects on the transport networks in the South Island. State Highway One is blocked to heavy transport by the closure of the Ashburton Bridge to heavy traffic and there is serious damage to many other alternative routes that may have been used had they been available.

Many people have lost their homes to the ravages of the flooding and these will take a long time and much effort to repair and replace their assets to allow them to move back into their homes. Many farmers are facing huge repair bills and months, if not years, of work to reinstate their farms to the productive state they were in prior to the flooding if they are able to financially support this level of remediation work.

Funding for Flood Recovery measures

The classification of this weather event as a “medium-scale adverse event” ensures funding of $500,000 for flood recovery measures.

Given the serious damage suffered by many Farmers, farming communities, and the roading networks in the Canterbury region, I find it hard to see how this level of funding support is even adequate in the short term let alone on a long term basis when compared to that offered as a part of the Covid 19 support package.

Yes this is a localised weather event with the largest effects being felt by the local people in the Canterbury region as opposed to the effects of Covid 19 but when you compare some of the targeted support funding packages that were offered to various business groups there is not much difference in the outcomes (I.e. the remedial effects from the funding allocation are only relevant to the selected business group).

Yet the Government has only declared this a “medium-scale adverse event” and offered initial support funding of $500,000. How does this compare to covid 19 support for the media of tens of millions of dollars. Surely the media is a separate localised body similar to the Canterbury region and they were in a similar position to many of the Canterbury farmers and farming communities (i.e. staring at business collapse) but they seemed to be in the eyes of the government, very much more important than the Canterbury people as evidenced by the support offered.

Feedback from locals

Farmers in the Canterbury high country are dismissing as “woefully inadequate” a $500,000 fund from the government to restore their stations after they were hammered by rain.

Canterbury was battered by torrential rain on Saturday afternoon, with no reprieve until Monday evening. For some areas, up to half the usual annual rainfall fell in two days.

It has devastated much of the region, leaving huge swathes of land under water, animals dead and properties flooded, forcing many evacuations.

Rail and road infrastructure is also badly damaged, with repairs likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, while the region’s farmers face a huge clean-up bill.

But farmers near Lake Coleridge say that the funding offered would barely be enough to fix damage to a single high country station. High country farms have mostly suffered infrastructure damage.

Deer fencing is $25 a metre and they’ve got kilometres of fences damaged and fencing is vital for keeping stock out of waterways.

The rugged hills have also been marred by slips, and tracks, bridges, and access roads have been washed out.

 As high-end meat producers, farmers said they had already been rattled by Covid-19’s impact on exports, which saw venison prices drop from $11 per kilogram to $6 as the pandemic shut down dining in hubs like Europe and the United States. This event is another hit we didn’t need.

Some found it “offensive” the Government had only deemed the flooding a medium-scale event, given its impact the $500,000 could be swallowed up in just one farm … it’s more insulting than if it was nothing.

Farmers said they were hugely grateful for the “incredible” response of the farming community. People in strife themselves have been offering to help. It’s humbling really but the support offered by the Government was “woefully inadequate”, and it did not make farmers feel valued.

But then given that over recent years it has become fashionable to blame farmers for all of the environmental problems the world is facing maybe we are a bit naïve to have expected much more support for the farming sector even though it is the mainstay of our national economy.