Farming bore brunt of disaster

Last updated 12:00 18/02/2014

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The Manawatu floods a decade ago devastated lives, properties and livelihoods, and caused hardship and stress that is still raw for some people.

But the economy itself was resilient and largely recovered from the body blows to production within a couple of years.

Vision Manawatu's evaluation a month after the floods predicted rebuilding activity would soon recoup the 5 per cent drop in regional GDP, and that the region would suffer "no long-term effects". By the end of the financial year to June, 2005, it was reporting the overall impact was "relatively small".

Its report valued direct production losses at $117 million for the 2003-04 year, and $50.8m the next year - a total loss of $167.8m.

There was a total $141m fall in regional GDP over the two years.

On the other side of the ledger, money poured into the region - $162.97m in recovery assistance, welfare payments, infrastructure repairs, emergency services, cleanup projects and the like.

About $35.7m flowed in through payment of insurance claims.

There were 1762 job losses directly associated with primary production or through linked industries, but another 1550 jobs were gained through the recovery assistance package.

Vision Manawatu acting chief executive Rodney Wong said the simple dollar values masked the pain.

"It's difficult putting an economic measure on what was a social disaster. My view on the impact of the flood goes beyond the financial and economic costs that could be quantified."

But still, the figures suggest an underlying, overall resilience.

The regional economy had been going through a phase of steady, if softening, economic growth.

Mr Wong said farming took the brunt, and most farmers were able to recover because their debt levels were modest.

"The financial resilience of the agricultural community is probably not so strong now, as established farmers are retiring, and new people are coming in with high debt levels.

Mr Wong said the trauma of the floods dented confidence in the future of primary production and highlighted its vulnerability to extreme weather events.

It also hastened a shift in the nature of the regional economy towards more service industries, value-added activities and logistics.

He was delighted Horizons Regional Council was acting to improve flood protection for the research and education facilities at Turitea, whose contribution to the regional economy had to be recognised and enhanced.

Mr Wong said he remained worried the region was not attracting enough central government investment in roading vital for the strong and developing logistics and distribution sector.

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Massey University vice-chancellor Steve Maharey, who was Palmerston North MP and Minister for Social Development at the time, recalls the incredible stress put on farmers and families.

He said ongoing improvements to flood protection for farming in low-lying areas needed to continue and, like the Christchurch earthquakes, the effects lived on in insurance costs and a cautiousness about carrying on the same as before.

- Manawatu Standard

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