Media release:

Stress is a significant issue affecting the Hurunui district after a challenging decade of earthquakes, drought, storms, and economic downturns

28 November 2018





Research is currently underway in North Canterbury’s Hurunui district to understand how natural hazard events affect communities and people in this district.



The past decade has been challenging for the Hurunui, which was indirectly affected by the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, then experienced a four year drought, during which the 2016 Hurunui / Kaikōura earthquake struck. It also experienced multiple periods of turbulent weather such as floods, windstorms and tropical cyclones. David Wither, the PhD student undertaking this research, interviewed the Hurunui District Mayor to gain insights into how these events affected and continue to affect the community.

When it comes to people and communities, Mayor Winton Dalley identified stress as likely the most significant issue post-disaster. “Stress is a complex and nuanced issue with many different aspects that permeate through a community,” said Dalley. “It might stem from an issue like money or animal welfare, which is stressful for the farm or business owner. This filters down pretty quickly into the young people who just soak it up like a sponge, and from there that stress can be transmitted to the schools and other businesses in the area.” This can lead to psychosocial challenges for everyone involved.

Unlike the physical effects of a natural hazard event, stress is an effect that can be lessened or amplified depending on the hazard response. “The amount of stress people are under is an aspect of a natural hazard event that we have some level of control over,” Dalley points out. “There are many things we can’t control, but we can relieve the pressure communities are put under after an event. And it’s not just about the amount of money spent on the response and recovery, it’s about how effectively these limited resources are used.” The way the government responds to a natural hazard event, and the support they provide the local community with can have a significant impact on the amount of stress residents will feel. Psychologically, stress can have a negative impact on people’s ability to make good decisions. “If you want the economy to recover you need to look at the people at its heart.” Preliminary results from Wither’s research suggest that reducing additional unnecessary stress they are under could have significant flow-on impacts for recovery. ­­­­

Having conducted a number of interviews already, Wither will be talking to more Hurunui district locals over the coming months. Wither’s findings are part of a larger project that investigates the government and agricultural sectors’ response to the series of adverse events the Hurunui has experienced over the last decade, specifically how they have impacted the livelihoods of the people who live there.

If you or someone you know is struggling with stress or anxiety, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or visit Health Navigator for reliable health information and self-help resources.

Resilience to Nature’s Challenges is one of eleven MBIE funded National Science Challenges. It is increasing the resilience of Aotearoa New Zealand by developing new scientific solutions to transform our response, recovery and “bounce-back” from our wide diversity of natural hazards.