Friday, February 23, 2024

O’Connor seeks rethink on weather relief

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The relief funds budgeted for response and recovery were used up in first two months of financial year prompting a need for a rethink.
The increasing number of weather events needing recovery support has put the MPI adverse event recovery programme under significant pressure, says Damien O’Connor.
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More frequent adverse weather events have racked up pressure on the Ministry for Primary Industries’ relief funds – and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor is calling for a rethink.

“With climate change, severe weather events are becoming both more frequent and intense, and these have tested the resilience of rural communities. We want to front-foot this as much as possible,” he said.

“I have asked my officials for advice on what and how we best respond to adverse events in rural communities in the future, including what funding needs to be in place, and continue to encourage rural proofing across government.” 

That would include a suitable suite of support measures with appropriate funding arrangements in place so the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) could be responsive in future years, he said.  

The current budget appropriation is “inadequate in the current environment”, O’Connor said in a recent cabinet paper.

Budget 2022-23 had an appropriation of $530,000 for response and recovery assistance, which was used up in the first two months of the financial year, he said. 

Funds were used after the August 2022 Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and Northland flood events as well as for ongoing recovery from events of the previous year.

According to O’Connor, over the past two years MPI had reprioritised an average of $4.6 million baseline appropriation each year towards response and recovery. 

“This is not sustainable,” O’Connor said. 

According to the minister, the $530,000 appropriation was set by the cabinet 15 years ago and is now “inadequate” to respond to adverse events which are happening more regularly and with greater severity. 

Once funding is exhausted, any extra money has to be sought either from the cabinet or reprioritised from baseline funding. 

“This delays my ability to get timely financial assistance and welfare support to communities and industries where it is needed,” O’Connor said. 

Cyclone Hale – which hit last week – was classified as a medium-scale adverse event in the Tairāwhiti/Gisborne district, unlocking $100,000 in government support. 

O’Connor extended the classification to include the Wairarapa, which unlocked another $80,000.

The storm left waterlogged fields, slips, flood debris and silt, fallen trees and surface water in its wake.

“The debris on farms, hill slippage, road closures and damage to culverts, farm tracks and other infrastructure, means farmers and growers will face many months of work to get back on track,” he said.

In the paper, dated November 10, O’Connor sought cabinet approval for an additional $1.5m for the rest of this financial year for small and medium events, noting that “funding for larger-scale events that require a high level of support will still be sought from cabinet”.

However, a longer-term solution is needed because the $1.5m was a one-off and the appropriation will stay at $530,000.  

“New Zealand has faced many adverse events in recent years … The high number of events needing recovery support has put the MPI adverse event recovery programme under significant pressure.

“There is a pressing need to increase response agencies’ overall capacity to help communities respond to, and recover from, future adverse events,” O’Connor said.

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