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Drought backdrop to disaster research seminars

Drought backdrop to disaster research seminars

Farmers digging in for the reality of a long drought will also have to face the implications of such dry spells on their lifestyle off the land too.

Massey University clinical psychologist Dr Sarb Johal, from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research says the likely recurrence of drought conditions in future farming seasons would not only cause a transition in the management of land and water use but also in the way farmers mentally handled challenges set to affect everything from economic productivity to leisure time.

Dr Johal is among other emergency management specialists gathering at Massey Wellington campus this week for a series of seminars addressing issues around preparing for and responding to natural disaster.

Centre director Dr David Johnston says the seminars include discussion and real-life case studies on topics including developing effective all-hazard warning systems; evacuation planning and welfare and the role of public education and public participation in building communities able to withstand the worst effects of natural disaster from earthquake, to flood to drought.

Dr Johal, who is providing an introduction to psychosocial support and recovery, says while some of the reactions experienced by farmers may be similar to that experienced by those who endured disasters like the Canterbury earthquakes, other reactions would very much be driven by their rural environment.

“The practical challenges will include the financial burdens and threat for those affected by the lack of rain in recent months. As well as causing immediate stressors for farmers and people working in transport and stock management, it will also place a considerable psychological burden. Even for the most robust people this can take a toll”

Once the immediate challenges are met, the problems don’t go away, he says, noting that organisations such as the Rural Support Trusts and Federated Farmers could play a vital role to provide support and ease the burden of landowners, sharemilkers and sharecroppers.

“Financial implications are likely to be carried forward into the next economic planning cycle for small businesses affected by the current dry conditions, while there may be a lag in the processes they are able to change to mitigate for the risk for drier conditions in the medium term.”

Other New Zealand specific real-life case studies from events such as the Canterbury earthquakes, recent volcanic activity as well as tsunami in the Pacific islands will be presented at the seminar. A warning exercise and separate presentation outlining preparations for a potential Wellington earthquake will also feature. Speakers will explore topics as diverse but relevant as older adults discussions about disaster preparedness and response, disability and animal welfare issues and Maori resilience and recovery.

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