NZ natural hazard response falls short: industry
Central government is not doing enough to lead and govern a natural hazards strategy, according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ).
In a paper titled Protecting New Zealand from Natural Hazards, published to coincide with its annual conference being held today, ICNZ says not enough emphasis is placed on risk reduction and what is out there is inconsistent in its approach.
“New Zealand’s approach to reducing the risks from natural hazards falls short of what is needed,” says the report.
“No one agency is responsible for leading and coordinating New Zealand’s response to natural hazards. As a result, gaps exist.
“Risk reduction has never had the focus it deserves.”
ICNZ CEO Tim Grafton says that based on data going back to 1900 New Zealand can expect to face, on average, annual costs of $1.6 billion (or just under 1% of its GDP) from natural disasters – and if measures aren’t taken that cost will increase.
“Climate change will increase the risk of flooding in parts of the country and drought in other areas,” Grafton said. “Coastal areas will be more vulnerable as sea levels rise and we can expect more severe windstorms in the west.”
The report says an indication of the priority given to risk reduction is the mere three pages devoted to it in the 2014 national plan for the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM).
Much of it is left to regional Civil Defence Emergency Management groups whose approaches vary in the priority they give the matter.
“The result is incremental and a patchwork of uneven measures applied across the country to reduce risk. This is not acceptable when risks are significant nationally or locally,” the report says.
“This could be partly addressed by changing the focus from response to a disaster to reduction of risk and recovery plans.”
Among the 15 steps outlined in the report to be taken include:
-Legislative changes including listing all natural hazards on property LIM reports
-Addressing how to fund natural hazard risk reduction
-Getting business and the banking sector to understand their roles
-Keeping insurance affordable for eg by removing the fire levy
-Changing public attitudes to high risk properties
The most important would be to establish a dedicated agency within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to oversee a co-ordinated strategy to reduce the impact of natural disasters before they strike and then develop a national plan by drawing on central, local and private sector interest.
Says Grafton: “We cannot control the forces of nature, but we can reduce their impact significantly by building New Zealand’s capacity to withstand and recover from natural disasters.”