Tuesday, February 27, 2024

There’s a lot to do and we need to do it right 

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Regions are doing a lot better than their big-city counterparts in the wake of Gabrielle, says Alan Emerson.
Roads have been affected throughout coastal Wairarapa – and throughout the region and beyond, locals have rolled up their sleeves and fired up their tractors to get busy with the clearing work, Alan Emerson says.
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When Cyclone Hale struck, our road to the east went out. Shortly after that I heard a tractor, and local farmer Jeff Meredith was there, voluntarily and unannounced, to clear it. He did.

Up the Homewood Road there were access issues and the locals cleared them. That’s what happens in the country.

With Cyclone Hale we had some major flooding issues with drains blocked and a slip threatening the house. We quickly put in a new drain and a retaining wall thanks to Madden Contracting. Both held for Cyclone Gabrielle.

This time there were some real issues in coastal Wairarapa, which will continue for some considerable time, but there’s been no loss of life and stock has been lost but it could have been worse. We were far better off than our colleagues to the north including the immediate north at Tinui.

Masterton District Council did a superb job clearing roads in difficult circumstances. I believe Wellington Regional Council has been difficult and increased the stress levels on already stressed locals. 

A plaudit for our provincial mayors who have had one hell of a time with, initially, limited resources. They did a lot better than their big city counterparts.

I’m also convinced that rural people are quite special in the way they support each other. Phone calls checking on locals, the Rural Support Trusts and Feds springing into action, were accompanied by people going out of their way to help with whatever needed doing.

We were phoned by a local, Becs O’Neale, with a request for food for Tinui, which suffered severe damage A lot of it went from the Riversdale, Homewood area.

We were fortunate in that although we were stuck at home with slips for Africa and fences a mess, our internet continued as normal as did our cell phone. Our power failed for a short while only.

Compared with our colleagues to the north we were extremely fortunate.

One thing the crisis has achieved is to highlight the relevance of the mainstream media in imparting accurate information as against the mindless clatter of social media. We stuck to RNZ and Newshub on TV3 plus the local Wairarapa Times Age. They served us well. 

Mind you, if you relied on Newstalk ZB you would have been legitimately confused by the commentary from Kate Hawksby, Mike Hosking and Kerre Woodham. I don’t rate the network.

Social media has been awash with hysterical calls to cut cow numbers, among other stupid suggestions.

The harsh reality is we could get rid of every cow in the country and every car it would make absolutely no difference to global warming. We need to find other options for New Zealand.

As Bryan Gibson mentioned in last week’s Farmers Weekly, in “Building back better has never been more important” (February 20),   our general infrastructure needs considerable investment. It’s been ignored by successive governments for decades and must be fixed. I agree.

What we need is a national plan with buy-in from all political parties. There are some hard decisions to be made and politicians need to put their differences aside and make them.

For a start there are houses where they shouldn’t be as they are vulnerable to flooding and/or earthquakes. Restoring them is stupid in my view. The problem is to find accommodation and quickly at a time when both major political parties have failed on the housing front.

Similarly, farming on flood plains doesn’t have a great future. Mitigating erosion on hill country needs to be a priority and, as we’ve seen, exotic forestry isn’t an option.

On forestry, a mate in the industry brought up the issue of slash. “It wasn’t a problem in my time,” he told me. “We were allowed to burn it.” There’s a thought. Did the brains trust in Wellington consider slash when they banned burning? Slash can also be turned into biofuels, which would be helpful.

I’d also suggest we need water storage and much more of it. If there are areas we can’t farm because of flood danger we need to replace that production elsewhere and that will require water storage. As we’ve seen in the past few weeks we’re not short of water.

The full recovery will take years if not decades and needs to be properly done.

The immediate reaction by FENZ, Defence and Police has been solid as has the initial government reaction to the crisis. The prime minister talked of adapting to climate change and resilience. His allocation of resources including much-needed cash has been welcome.

Appointing Grant Robertson as minister for the recovery was also sensible in my view. For the record I have absolutely no issue with the government borrowing much more to create a resilient economy. We can’t just keep replacing roads, they need to be re-established in places where they are not subject to climate excesses.

There’s a lot to do but we need to do it once and do it right.

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