Cyclone Gabrielle, climate hazards and a changing world

Cyclone Gabrielle’s destructive pathway in February 2023, had a significant impact on Māori communities. Our thoughts remain with those who lost loved ones, were displaced, and all whānau, hapū, and iwi affected.

Published: Thursday, 15 February 2024 | Rāpare, 15 Huitanguru, 2024

Cyclone Gabrielle’s destructive pathway in February 2023, on the back of the January floods in the upper North Island, had a significant impact on Māori communities specifically in the regions of Te Tai Tokerau, Tāmaki Makaurau, Waikato-Waiariki and Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. Our thoughts remain with those who lost loved ones, were displaced, and all whānau, hapū, and iwi affected.

This devastating weather event exposed disproportionate risks to Māori, and severely damaged cultural infrastructure and taonga, such as marae and urupā, housing, businesses, farms and whenua, challenging the resilience of many Māori communities.

Te Puni Kōkiri kaimahi were immediately available to support whānau and understand the extent of the impact. Rich relationships and community connections meant that kaimahi could help broker support and advocate with other agencies, getting help to whānau and communities at pace.

Government funding for Māori-led response and recovery involved Te Puni Kōkiri administering $39 million, and our agency also redirected a further $10 million from other funds into cyclone recovery:

To understanding the impact of climate hazards on Māori, Te Puni Kōkiri has been working with other agencies on the Government’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) contributing to the assessment of the socio-economic and climate vulnerability for Māori.

“Our report Understanding climate hazards for hapori Māori contributes to knowledge of the unique needs of hapori Māori in the context of te ao hurihuri – a changing world,” said Paula Rawiri, Deputy Secretary Policy Partnership.

The ongoing challenge is that weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle are becoming more frequent. Some regions may also face prolonged periods of drought and extreme rainfall, while others could experience contrasting weather patterns. Gradual changes such as ocean warming and increased hot days will also introduce new climate hazards, emphasising the need for preparedness and adaptability.

While all New Zealanders will feel the impact of these climate hazards, the ability of communities to adapt and their resilience will vary considerably across the motu. Māori communities in particular face heightened risks due to their geographical locations, the industries they work in, and current socio-economic circumstances.

“Te Puni Kōkiri has undertaken a first step exploratory analysis to understand the projected risks of climate hazards on Māori communities. The study found that Māori households, while facing similar exposure to climate hazards as the overall population, are projected to face greater risks due to a higher proportion of Māori households at risk of poverty, health disparities, justice and protection concerns, and adaptability issues,” said Paula.

This mahi will strengthen policy design and development to ensure outcomes for thriving whānau can be achieved in a changing world.

For now, 12 months later, many communities affected by Cyclone Gabrielle are fatigued and remain in recovery mode.  This week the Government announced a $63 million boost for sediment and debris removal in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti to ensure the urgent work to clean-up cyclone affected regions continues. Funding will be administered by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and the Gisborne District Council.

Image courtesy of NZ Defence Force