Cyclone Gabrielle

On 14 February 2023 Cyclone Gabrielle hit Aotearoa New Zealand with record rainfall and flooding. Hawke’s Bay was one of the hardest hit regions leaving many communities and businesses damaged or destroyed.

16% of the Hastings District was flooded. Initial estimates[1] suggest approximately 1,600 homes were flooded across Hawke’s Bay, some with up to seven metres of water. Across the region over 1,000 properties have been either yellow or red stickered[2]. Homeowners in severely impacted areas are anxiously waiting on central and local government to make decisions around the future use of their land.

28 days after Cyclone Gabrielle, the State of Emergency was lifted in Hawke’s Bay. The region has now entered a phase of recovery and rebuild, and this will require a significant investment from industry, iwi, central and local government. Estimates put the expected national rebuild cost in excess of $13 billion. Fundamental to the recovery is the need for regionally-led leadership and direction. Local leaders have worked together to develop a Hawke’s Bay Cyclone Gabrielle Regional Recovery Framework to provide a structure for recovery efforts. Actions will be led by Matariki governance partners but will include an oversight board made up of directors with relevant skills and competencies needed for each specific area of recovery. Cyclone Gabrielle has shown the fragility of the region’s critical infrastructure, so underpinning all recovery activities will be the need to ensure future resilience against catastrophic events.

The impact on Hawke’s Bay’s workforce is anticipated to be significant. Traditionally March is a peak employment period for Hawke’s Bay, however 2023 has seen the opposite to this with increasing unemployment numbers reported. The situation is expected to worsen over the coming months.

The Hawke’s Bay RSLG is primed to support the expected workforce recovery activities. By working collaboratively with local labour market contributors, the Hawke’s Bay RSLG will ensure the region has kaimahi (workers) with the right skills in place, at the right time.

A substantial focus of the RSLG will be initiatives that retrain displaced kaimahi and support them into redeployment opportunities, particularly around recovery efforts. Critical to the retraining is the view that kaimahi need transferrable skills and information on how to capitalise on these skills. This will allow kaimahi to move confidently into other industries at the completion of recovery activities.

Predicated workforce impacts

Hauora and wellbeing

The Hawke’s Bay RSLG have identified that hauora (health) and wellbeing is both a barrier and enabler to people upskilling, regularly attending work and being present for whānau (family) and communities. Living through a natural disaster has long term psychological and psychosocial impacts on whānau and the community.

Impacts are not limited to those who have experienced loss, individuals who were involved in the aftermath are also vulnerable. The challenges facing whānau may include, but are not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, anti-social behaviour and family harm.

The full extent and impact of this will not be felt until the months and years following the cyclone. The Government has acknowledged the additional support required to ensure the hauora of the region and has invested $3.25 million in the existing mental health support networks across Hawke’s Bay.

Providers in this sector were facing unprecedented kaimahi shortages prior to the cyclone and the resulting demand for mental health services. Barriers to building a skilled and available workforce must be addressed to ensure adequate provision of care across the region.

Environment

Cyclone Gabrielle is the most significant weather event on record with between 250 – 400mm rainfall recorded across the region. Slash, debris and soil slowed the flow of rivers which in turn breached stop banks, inundating surrounding areas with floodwaters. It is only the third time in New Zealand’s history a national state of emergency has been declared. Climate change and the resulting warming oceans intensified the cyclone and increase the likelihood of future catastrophic weather events. As a region, there needs to be a better understanding of the environmental impacts of climate change and what skills are needed to deliver sustainable solutions and risk mitigations. Environmental resilience will be a key focus of the recovery and must be embedded with mātauranga Māori.

Emergency management

Cyclone Gabrielle has shown the importance of an agile and responsive emergency management response. Hapū, iwi, and Te Taiwhenua have been at the centre of the emergency response with local marae providing communities with food and accommodation while ensuring the hauora needs of the community are met. While regular training is offered by the National Emergency Management Agency, this does not explicitly target hapū, iwi and Taiwhenua. With a recent surge workforce of 150, those operating in an emergency capacity were inaccessible to remote communities or operating without formal training.

The Integrated Training Framework must remain responsive to regional needs and the roles mana whenua has taken up historically.

Integrated Training Framework(external link) — Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) training courses | civildefence.govt.nz

Construction and infrastructure

Businesses and kaimahi in the Construction and Infrastructure Sector were at the forefront of the immediate cyclone response, aiding communities with the workforce and machinery critical in accessing and clearing property. In the move to recovery, the Hawke’s Bay RSLG are cognisant of the ongoing role this sector will be play. Re-establishment of critical infrastructure and housing in the region will take years and will require the rebuilding of roads, railways, bridges, and homes. The sector was already experiencing skill shortages, and it is expected to be exasperated in the coming years.

Horticulture

Horticulture remains vital to the Hawke’s Bay economy. Initial estimates put orchard losses from the cyclone at approximately 30% for apple orchards and other crops, but with rot induced organisms slowly killing non-damaged trees, this number is expected to climb. The supply of replacement trees is far below required numbers, with commercial nurseries predicting it will take up to five years to be able to meet cyclone induced demand. Kaimahi in this sector are still able to work, however the skill needs have shifted and will continue to shift as technological advances come online.

Viticulture

Hawke’s Bay is the second largest wine-producing region in Aotearoa New Zealand and was only a few weeks away from harvest when Cyclone Gabrielle hit. Estimates put the loss of grapes for the season at 11% of the total crop, with the number of vines and trellis systems irrecoverable still to be fully determined. Short-term implications for flood hit vineyards include inaccessibility of harvesting machinery due to wet ground, lack of kaimahi to pick by hand due to the physicality of the mahi and flood-swept collection bins now missing. 

Agriculture

The impact on the rural communities in Hawke’s Bay’s has been devastating, particularly for farmers. The challenges farmers face as they begin the clean-up include loss of stock, loss of grazing and damaged infrastructure. Destroyed farm tracks and bridges have left parts of farms inaccessible. Thousands of kilometres of fencing is irreparable and will take significant resource to replace.

Potential workforce impacts across the region:

  • Increased need for mental health support for kaimahi and tauira (students) in training and pre-employment programmes
  • Increased demand for mental health, addiction and family harm qualified kaimahi
  • Increased demand for mental health, addiction and family harm whanau and community champions and navigators
  • Increased demand for environmental management kaimahi
  • Reduced productivity due to wellbeing needs and considerations
  • Restructuring of grower businesses leading to potential role losses as cost efficiencies are sought
  • Loss of work for kaimahi employed in smaller grower businesses due to profitability timeframes
  • Increased demand for nursery businesses and kaimahi to meet the increased demand for apple trees
  • Increased demand for fencing labour and skills to replace damaged trellis systems
  • Shifting labour and skills needs if innovation is successfully adopted during re-build
  • Increased demand for businesses, labour and skills in the following industries: Roading, concreting, bridge building, building and associated sub-contractors, fencing and wheels, tracks and rollers.

Footnotes

[1] Cyclone Gabrielle flooding - North Island data(external link) — Dragonfly Data Science | dragonfly.co.nz

[2] Rapid building assessment and placarding system(external link) — Building Performance | building.govt.nz

Photo of damage and flooding in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle. A white car is upside down in muddy, flooded field, submerged so only it's wheels are visible.

Source: Radio New Zealand — rnz.co.nz

Last updated: 24 July 2023