As we now enter the third week of Level 4 water restrictions in Kaitaia, we are mindful of the long-term repercussions that could manifest from this short-term drought.
It has been widely reported what the restrictions mean: town supply water is now used for drinking, washing and cooking only, and all outdoor use is banned. We know that we need to reduce our collective water consumption by 25 per cent if we are to continue to draw water from the Awanui River and Okahu Stream, our primary and secondary water sources. We know that rainfall is not forecast for any time soon, and that alternative solutions are being sought. We know that if any one of us is caught deliberately flouting the restrictions, we are liable for a fine of up to $20,000.
What we don't know, and can't measure at this stage, are the social ramifications that a drought places on the collective health and wellbeing of our tight-knit community.
Whiria te Muka, an initiative between the NZ Police and Te Hiku Iwi Development Trust, works to reduce and prevent whānau harm in Te Hiku. What we saw this hot, dry summer, from December 16 to January 20, was our team work with people who were involved in 190 family violence incidents reported to the Kaitaia police through 111 calls. These incidents affected 577 people, 60 of whom were kaimātakitaki (people who witnessed whānau harm) aged 9 years and under.
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What we didn't fully realise at the time was that we were heading into a drought period that was going to require a shift to a more preventative approach to family violence. Now, as we come to terms with a dwindling water supply that has been depleted by high visitor numbers, we need to prepare for what might come ahead.
Our recorded triggers to reported family violence during summer were mainly attributed to harmful alcohol consumption. However, relationship issues and financial stresses also feature regularly. And it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that our relational and economic resources are going to feel the pinch as stress levels rise and water levels continue to drop.
So, what can we do to prevent a potential spike in whānau harm caused by drought anxiety? We can continue to work towards our 25 per cent reduction target in our water consumption — take shorter showers, flush the toilet less often, save grey water, wash only full loads and so forth.
But more importantly, we can change our collective mindset and regard for our environment from one of privilege to one of gratitude. We can stop taking our resources for granted, not least of which is us. Working together, we can overcome anything, and look after each other in the process.
In the words of Te Aupōuri tūpuna Meringāroto, He aha te mea nui o te āo? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the greatest thing? It is people, it is people, it is people!