Havelock North gastro outbreak cost about $21 million, report finds

RNZ

Last year's water-contamination crisis cost each Havelock North household more than $2400 in lost wages, extra cleaning and time off work.

The gastro outbreak in Havelock North last August cost a total of $21 million, of which residents picked up a bill of about $12m.

A new report, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, found the cost per household was about $2440, most of which came from boiling water or buying bottled water, or money lost through time off work.

The Sapere Research Group found that, altogether, the economic impact from "on society" was $21m across local government, businesses, central government, NGOs, the health sector, and residents.

April Singh, 41, of Havelock North, who contracted Guillain Barre syndrome after coming down with campylobacteriosis in ...
MARTY SHARPE/STUFF

April Singh, 41, of Havelock North, who contracted Guillain Barre syndrome after coming down with campylobacteriosis in the Havelock North gastro outbreak.

Local government was estimated to have incurred $4m, while it only cost central government about $500,000.

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The cost to local business was estimated at $1.3m.

Residents protested after the town's water contamination and gastro outbreak.
EMILY HENDERY/STUFF

Residents protested after the town's water contamination and gastro outbreak.

The report said the illness meant households could not go about normal daily life due to the lack of a safe drinking water supply.

It affected how food was washed, prepared and cooked, meant people had more laundry to do, and made bathing an issue. General cleaning became a problem, and getting fresh water, including the time and transport used in doing so, was an added cost.

The report also considered the impact of stress and other mental health factors, the illness itself hitting people, or people having to stay at home and look after sick children, or children unable to go to pre-school or school because they were closed.

The report found the outbreak costs residents alone $12m.
SUPPLIED

The report found the outbreak costs residents alone $12m.

Havelock North resident Fiona Hosford, whose daughter was hit by the illness last year, said she was not surprised by the estimated cost each household affected by the illness had had to bear.

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It was likely some households had spent more, and some less. Her family had decided to spend extra money installing a water filter, as her children were reacting to the chlorine in the water supply, and she was not convinced chlorination was enough to make water safe for drinking.

"That was a big outlay either, but it was either we spend the money in a lump sum on a water filter or spend the money on eczema treatment."

Hosford said any redress to residents would come from ratepayers, so it was a tricky situation.

"I'm sure there are people who really need [compensation]. I won't be seeking compensation as I don't imagine it will be easy, and there will be people who need it more, there are definitely some people who should be looked after."

Just-elected Tukituki MP and former Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said the government view was that it had already given $1m back to the Hawke's Bay DHB, and $100,000 to Havelock North's community to help cover the costs in the business community.

It was not really involved in the crisis, and the cost on the community was one the community and local authorities should be wearing, more than the Crown.

However, if the council made a contribution was made back to families, it would be coming from other ratepayers. 

"It's a hard one, and I think that all can be realistically has been done, bearing in mind no one entity was found to have caused it, there's no strict liability issues," Yule said.

The council had provided a fund for those with significant health issues, and rebates on water rates in Havelock North.

Hastings District Council's chief executive said the report was a useful economic exercise. 

The council was investing in new water infrastructure – treatment plants, a new bore source, and more pipes ton make sure the water supply was safe and sustainable. 

It had already approved $12m for this and further funding was likely in the Long-Term Plan. 

 - Stuff

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