New Zealand’s extreme summer shattered rainfall records, wrought as much as $14 billion in damage and left 15 people dead in its worst two events alone.
Harder to measure, however, was its impact on our young people – not to mention the mounting toll future weather catastrophes will take in an increasingly warmer, wilder world.
After what’s virtually certain to have been the planet’s hottest month in history, University of Auckland researchers are launching a major new study expected to help fill a global knowledge gap, while informing recovery efforts and future planning.
Their “Extreme Weather Survey” marks the latest project based out of the longitudinal Growing Up in New Zealand Study (Guinz), which has been tracking around 6000 children since 2009.
The team plans to canvas around 1400 young people from those regions hardest hit by the Auckland Anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle, using an online survey.
“Research has shown that extreme events such as severe flooding and cyclones can take a greater toll on young people’s wellbeing,” Guinz research director Associate Professor Sarah-Jane Paine said.
“So, this work is focused on understanding how young people managed through these events and, importantly, how they are doing now.”
It also offered families a chance to let recovery agencies know how the summer’s events had affected them – and what could be done to better prepare for weather disasters to come.
“Like the rest of us, these young people in our study, who are predominantly 13 or 14 years of age, had just come off the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, where a lot of social and educational experiences had been really changed,” Paine said.
“The timing of these events also came as many of them were about to start secondary school, so they were going through a transition point not just in their education, but also their life journey.”
After an initial survey round, the team planned to follow up with them at the start of next year.
“We will be asking questions about both their physical and mental health, as well as relationships with family and friends and impacts on their school, neighborhood and wider community,” she said.
“Following this cohort into the future, we can start to think about what supports young people to recover - and what factors limit that recovery.”
While there was a dearth of longitudinal data on the area internationally, Paine said existing studies nonetheless pointed to some important patterns.
“The first is that psychological and emotional wellbeing impacts are really significant off the back of extreme weather events,” she said.
“We also know that mental wellbeing in adolescence is a critical issue: so, we need to understand how these events may be changing trajectories for young people here in Aotearoa.”
She said the new programme had also been informed by insights into peoples’ post-earthquake experiences, collected by the Christchurch Health and Development Study.
The survey would be open for the month of August, with findings expected to be published before the end of the year.
Jamie Morton is a specialist in science and environmental reporting. He joined the Herald reporting team in 2011 and has spent the last decade writing about everything from conservation and cosmology to climate change and Covid-19.