New Zealand needs to rebuild for weather resilience, PM says

Feb 20, 2023, 5:46 AM | Updated: 7:50 pm
A large slip in the Taurau Valley near Gisborne from Cyclone Gabrielle, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. Cy...

A large slip in the Taurau Valley near Gisborne from Cyclone Gabrielle, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. Cyclone Gabrielle struck the country's north on Feb. 13 and the level of damage has been compared to Cyclone Bola in 1988. That storm was the most destructive on record to hit the nation of 5 million people. (George Heard/NZ Herald via AP)

(George Heard/NZ Herald via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — After last week’s damaging cyclone, New Zealand needs to rebuild with more resilient infrastructure to cope with more frequent and intense weather events, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has described Cyclone Gabrielle, which caused widespread damage on New Zealand’s North Island and claimed 11 lives, as the country’s most damaging natural disaster in at least a generation.

The cyclone followed another storm two weeks earlier that swamped New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, and killed four people.

Hipkins said there had been a nine-fold increase in government spending in the 2021-22 fiscal year on helping farmers cope with floods, storms and drought.

The number of weather events that require emergency road work more than doubled from an average of 67 a year between 2018 and 2021 to 140 a year, Hipkins said.

“We know that how we recover has to be done a little bit differently this time,” Hipkins told Parliament. “We’ve got to build back better, we’ve got to build back safer and we’ve got to build back smarter.”

He added that New Zealand was “without question” experiencing the effects of climate change and extreme weather events were becoming more common and more intense.

“Business as usual won’t work any more. We have to accept that billions of dollars of additional investment is going to be required not just to fix up what has been damaged but to build more resilience so that we can better cope with these types of events in the future,” Hipkins said.

The government is making road repair a focus of the recovery effort. Around 250 state highways and local roads remained closed Monday afternoon and crews were repairing 400 kilometers (249 miles) of highway, Hipkins said.

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New Zealand needs to rebuild for weather resilience, PM says