Potential psychosocial impacts of recent flooding in New Zealand

The south of New Zealand is experiencing exceptional flooding events – in Fiordland and towns in Southland too – this is still ongoing, with much uncertainty for residents about what this will mean for them now, and in the future.

It is worth noting just how extensive and long-lasting the psychosocial impacts of flooding can be. Looking at case studies from New Zealand as well as the UK in the past decade can help inform agencies’ responses to these most recent flood events.

After the Matata floods of 2005 in the Bay of Plenty, research showed how such a deluge affected small settlements. Research identified that even though it was two years after the event, “people’s emotions around the night and events since the disaster were still very raw.

“Much like an open wound that keeps festering, people seemed stuck in a place of continual hurt and anger”.

Much of this anger was directed towards the recovery process and decision-making subsequent to the disaster.

These included the inability to return to homes until months later, repeated moving, being in a state of limbo while waiting to learn of their property’s fate and having to live in another community permanently while still considering their Matata home.

While welfare agencies responded quickly to the situation there was a lack of acknowledgement of the psychosocial impact of the disaster.

Counselling was available in the earlier stages, however many did not make use of this as they were dealing with the more practical aspects of the disaster such as cleaning up and finding a place to live.

Similarly, following flood events at Hull in the UK in 2007, real-time longitudinal diaries were used to document the experiences of affected individuals.

They reported a loss of interest in everyday activities, extreme stress with the practicalities of dealing with flooding such as dealing with insurance companies & being placed in temporary accommodation, and further bad weather reminding them of the hardship they endured.

A survey of 288 affected households found that 11 per cent reported a strong deterioration in their mental health following the flooding, while 60 per cent expressed anxiety whenever it rained.

All of these case studies confirm the likely long-lasting effects of flooding on areas like Southland, and the need for the wider public to be mindful that the impact of such a disaster prolongs the welfare, physical and psychosocial needs of those affected.

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