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NZ flood AUG2022

Europe battles high temperatures, fires, and record low river levels that have exposed historical artefacts not seen for centuries while New Zealand experiences its wettest winter on record. What is happening, and are our natural hazards becoming well, more hazardous and more frequent?

Many parts of New Zealand experienced the wettest July since records began. Then in August a tropical atmospheric river brought unprecedented rainfall to several parts of the country causing flooding, landslides and damage to infrastructure which will run into the millions to repair. This last deluge was on top of already wet ground and a sodden landscape. While rainfall intensities were not particularly high in many places, the sheer volume of water in and on the landscape exceeded thresholds for failure in many localities.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities. However, many houses were damaged, and a number have been condemned. Insurance claims will be in the many hundreds of millions of dollars. Main roads between towns in the upper South Island are closed, and many rural roads damaged so badly that it may take months to years to provide access to isolated communities and households.

What we used to consider as a 1 in 100-year event appears to now be occurring more frequently, though we don’t have long record lengths for many areas of the country. Some communities who have been affected multiple times in recent years will now need to find ways to adapt to these new conditions or abandon the places they call home. They and the country will soon no longer be able to afford to foot the bill for repeat damage in the same locality as the insurance industry looks towards withdrawing cover from such areas.

Climate change in action or part of natural variation? Either way, our understanding and management of natural hazards needs more attention than it has received in the last few decades. Otherwise, our communities will continue to be unprepared and look to blame someone else for the impacts that arise.