Coping with Hazards: A Comparison of Farmers’ Responses to Drought and Flood in the Manawatu, New Zealand

March 2012 (VOL. 30, NO. 1)

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Research on natural disasters has generally focused on specific hazard agents, often related to the disciplinary basis of those researchers concerned. Equally, social impacts have frequently been related to the composition and structure of the specific population involved. There have been few attempts to synthesise findings and few comparative studies. This paper explores the social impact of flood and drought on an agricultural region in New Zealand. It highlights the differential impact of floods and drought on farms as both businesses and family homes. The paper uses a range of published and unpublished sources as well as the findings drawn from interviews with 23 farm households that experienced prolonged drought in the summer of 2008. Eleven households had been interviewed previously as part of a larger study of 44 households that experienced severe flooding in February 2004. The remaining 12 households provide a comparison group that while having experienced the drought was not directly impacted by the earlier flood. Six officials, including community leaders and others involved in drought and flood relief were also interviewed. The interviews were conducted in the period June-October, 2008. The results confirm the importance of the characteristics of the hazard in explaining its impact but also highlight the need to better understand the contextual factors involve when interpreting its social impact.