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Natural hazards research crucial to NZ safety

Natural hazards research crucial to NZ safety

New Zealand can sometimes be a dangerous place to live within but important research into flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural hazards will ensure the nation is well-prepared and able to recover quickly from such events.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology today announced the results of its Natural Physical Hazards investment round. Twelve research programmes from around the country will share $13.8m per annum of investment to carry out crucial research. The contracts range from two to six years in length.

The research aims to increase the ability of people to be prepared for natural hazards and recover more quickly from their consequences. The new programmes include the creation of a digital hazards database, studies of active volcanoes in the North Island, research into social and economic recovery after hazard events, and effective new hazard prediction techniques.

The Foundation's Group Manager of Investment Operations, Peter Benfell, says today's investment announcement is timely.

"Two of New Zealand's largest natural hazards in the last 50 years have occurred within the timeframe of this funding round; the Fiordland earthquake last August that had a magnitude of 7.0; and the massive flooding that took place in late February," says Peter.

"Consequently, it is significant that we are able to fund some excellent research that will focus on understanding the responses that occurred during these events and look at what options New Zealand could instigate to minimise future losses from such events.

"We can't change the fact that New Zealand is located in an eventful spot on the global map when it comes to natural hazards but we can do our best to ensure we have undertaken relevant research to minimise the impacts of natural hazards on our land and people."

In its decision-making process, the Foundation took into account legislation such as the Civil Defence Emergency Act, the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act.

* Massey University will receive $4.2m over a six year period to study active North Island volcanoes, such as Mount Ruapehu and Mount Taranaki, which pose a nationally significant economic threat. The programme will fill a critical gap in the geologic knowledge of the smaller and more frequent eruption activity of these volcanoes. Such eruptions, including the smallest of events, are capable of producing national-scale economic consequences, as demonstrated by at least $130m in economic losses being sustained during 1995-1996 events at Ruapehu.

The team aims to derive new methods of forecasting hazards based on comprehensive research into numerical volcanic mass flow modelling. They will also develop new economic risk modelling approaches so user groups, especially industry (including dairy, energy and tourism), can objectively rate volcanic against other risks and decide upon appropriate investment into independent risk management plans.

* New techniques to predict the impacts of natural hazards on our communities will be the focus of research by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd. The programme will receive more than $14m over four years and will focus on reducing the impacts of the four most significant natural hazards in New Zealand: severe weather systems; floods and droughts; coastal and submarine geological hazards; and coastal erosion. The researchers will provide information to support sensible decision-making and the implementation of measures to reduce hazard risk. All regions of New Zealand are currently at risk from natural hazards, and as development continues on flood plains, in our major cities and coastal areas, vulnerability to hazards increases. However, the researchers believe this research will significantly reduce this risk. The outcomes will be applicable to a wide range of users including: local authorities; the insurance sector; planners; hapu and iwi; and community groups.

* A digital database of New Zealand geology, including natural hazards, is being created by the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited, thanks to investment of $11.3m over six years from the Foundation. 'QMAP: Geological Map of New Zealand' is being produced with the help of Geographic Information System (GIS) software to become a definitive record of New Zealand geology, incorporating modern concepts and current data. QMAP is an ongoing project, which has been funded by the Foundation since 1994, and today's investment announcement will allow the project to be completed. The QMAP data will be used for identifying geological hazards, for mineral, groundwater and petroleum resource exploration, and for education. Key users include central, regional and local government, mineral and petroleum exploration companies, insurance and utility companies, universities, consultants and the general public. The geological mapping will be supported by geological basement research in poorly-known and complex parts of southwest and eastern New Zealand. This research also underpins assessment of New Zealand's mineral wealth and hydrocarbon resources, as well as natural physical hazards.

* Research into the social and economic recovery of urban communities following a natural disaster is to be carried out by Opus International Consultants Ltd.

The programme, which will receive $1.6m over four years, aims to understand the likely response and resilience of New Zealanders to a natural disaster, so that response planning can be carried out more effectively.

The researchers want to understand the inter-relationship between social recovery and economic recovery following a natural hazard.

The programme will examine these issues in the context of a devastating earthquake in an urban New Zealand setting, but the generic findings will also be applicable to other natural disasters that destroy or seriously disrupt the normal function of urban infrastructure.

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