23 Sep 2017

Rural areas need civil defence planning - farmer

12:14 pm on 23 September 2017

A farmer in Motueka is appealing to Civil Defence to spare a thought for rural communities when it comes to planning for large-scale disaster.

The Arthur Ranges.

The Arthur Ranges. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Gavin O'Donnell, a former head of Nelson Federated Farmers, told a Nelson-Tasman emergency management group hearing that more resources were needed to safeguard rural people and protect animals, in the event of a natural disaster.

The group has called for public submissions in a review of its five-year plan.

Mr O'Donnell said the biggest threat to any response from Civil Defence was the lack of reliable local farm data.

A hilltop dairy herd.

A hilltop dairy herd. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

"There is no central database anywhere and that poses real issues when trying to figure out the resources you need to respond," he told the hearing.

Mr O'Donnell said animal welfare issues were missing from the national Civil Defence response plan, and last November's Kaikōura earthquake brought that home.

He said farmers were unable to repair broken water pipes or get extra feed to stock as quickly as they should have, because of a heavy-handed approach by Civil Defence over road blocks.

"Civil Defence shut the roads, citing safety, but farmers who lived in the area couldn't get past the road blocks to get essential supplies for doing things like re-connecting water supplies."

He said understanding rural priorities and how to implement them is paramount in a natural disaster, because a worst-case scenario was that stock could die if a large earthquake struck in the heat of summer and water supplies were cut off, unable to be repaired.

Mr O'Donnell said when roads and bridges were knocked out, it was not possible to get supplementary feed on to farms, and dairy farmers were unable to get milk supplies out.

He added that the Kaikōura emergency also demonstrated that what stressed farmers the most was not their personal living situation but how to keep the business operating, and ensuring the welfare of stock.

He also said in his submission that Civil Defence communication plans were too focused on urban areas, and that while rural people were traditionally resilient and well placed to cope alone, the delivery of prompt professional assessment and health support services was "vitally important" in rural areas.

He said demographics had changed significantly with land use intensification, and many more people had been attracted to live rurally, who might not have the inherent resilience of traditional farmers. There was also currently no plan for the management of animals on lifestyle blocks needing emergency help, he said.

"I think more needs to be done to promote personal preparedness and business continuity planning for rural communities. It's strong in the urban sector but light on how it might work in the rural sector."

The emergency management group will meet soon to consider all submissions to the plan and make decisions based on feedback.

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