Tui Warmenhoven (Ngāti Porou) is the chair of the Board of Greenpeace Aotearoa. She writes from her home on the East Coast about the devastation in the wake of Cyclone Hale, and what it means for Tairāwhiti, and Aoteaora.
I’m writing this from my home in Tairāwhiti, in the catchment of the Waiapu river, in the wake of Cyclone Hale. At this time whānau should be enjoying the middle of summer. Yet a week ago, we were in a Civil Defence local state of emergency and today we’re expecting more extreme weather.
The cyclone was devastating, causing flooding, swollen rivers, landslides, erosion, sedimentation of rivers and the foreshore, dumped logs and debris, and pollution. It has damaged roads, bridges, kainga and private property. Kai moana was washed up on the shores and even a landslide created a new lake.
The climate crisis will cause more and worse extreme weather events like cyclones and we are experiencing this reality firsthand.
This damage is not by chance. We are seeing increased sedimentation and landslides because of human activities and the decisions people make on how they use the whenua. The way land is managed means the effects of extreme weather events such as Hale are much worse. Deforestation for agriculture and industrial plantation forestry creates erosion on hillsides, and results in landslides. The topsoil is lost into the streams and rivers causing sediment pollution further down the catchment. The sediment has caused the heartbreaking death of kai moana such as paua and crayfish.
It’s not just the risk of debris and sediment washed off the land, but also toxic materials washed into the waterways. Warning signs are telling us not to gather shellfish or take fish.
We can be thankful people are looking after each other. Our communities organised to distribute food parcels and provide emergency accommodation.
But it’ll take time to put things to rights. And it could get much worse if we do nothing.
The council called this a ‘one in 20 year’ weather event. Cyclones themselves aren’t unusual, but it’s the intensity that is new. With warmer sea temperatures, cyclones as strong as Hale could be every year. With each big storm the Waiapu riverbed rises further, meaning with the next storm the river floods more easily. This is what the climate crisis looks like.
Our location on the East Coast means Tairāwhiti will always be impacted by the increase in tropical cyclones crossing the Pacific. As for our whānau in the South Pacific, the climate crisis is here and now, affecting our daily lives. We’re on the frontline.
The Tairāwhiti region is mostly rural, and has a majority Māori population. It’s a special part of Aotearoa famous for being the first place in the world to greet the new year. It’s also on the whole a dispersed, less well-off community facing weather events we have no control over.
For Māori this is especially challenging. We are seeing taonga species being decimated. Rising seas and rivers mean we have to make choices to leave our homes, or to relocate places important to us such as urupa – and soon to be marae and kura..
While local and central governments have put money towards the recovery efforts, our elected representatives need to look at the long term solutions. Cyclone Hale is an example of a new norm that we don’t want.
I was honoured recently to become the new Chair of the Board of Greenpeace. At this time it’s especially challenging, and meaningful. To look after each other we need to look after Papatūānuku, as Papatūānuku looks after us. Greenpeace here in Aotearoa, and globally, is focused on confronting the causes of the climate and biodiversity crises.
Here in Aotearoa we need to urgently transform our agriculture system to protect the climate and restore biodiversity. We need to protect the world’s oceans, and end the production of single use plastics.
Greenpeace doesn’t have access to huge sums of money, nor political power – Greenpeace’s power comes when thousands of us from all walks of life come together in challenging times.
I look forward to being part of the Greenpeace movement with you this year – coming together in action this year on the frontline, online, in the streets, across Aotearoa and around the globe.