A Canterbury district rocked by a decade of earthquakes, drought, storms and economic slumps is now the focus of a study on stress.

Hurunui - population 12,850 - was hard hit by the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury quakes, before a four-year drought set in.

Along with floods, windstorms and tropical cyclones came another natural disaster - the 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake - which caused millions of dollars in damage and pushed Hurunui District Council further into internal debt.

While surveys showed many residents had met these blows with resilience, around 15 per cent of people said they'd struggled to cope with the impact of the quakes, and nearly one in three were strained by the long drought.


Residents voiced dismay at the loss of community facilities and friends and loved ones moving out of the district - and two in 10 even reported their children having become more anxious or clingy.

In a new study, PhD student David Wither interviewed Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley to find that stress remained the district's biggest issue.

"Stress is a complex and nuanced issue with many different aspects that permeate through a community," Dalley said.

"It might stem from an issue like money or animal welfare, which is stressful for the farm or business owner.

"This filters down pretty quickly into the young people who just soak it up like a sponge, and from there that stress can be transmitted to the schools and other businesses in the area."

Unlike the physical effects of a natural hazard event, stress was an effect that could be lessened or amplified depending on the hazard response.

"The amount of stress people are under is an aspect of a natural hazard event that we have some level of control over," Dalley said.

"There are many things we can't control, but we can relieve the pressure communities are put under after an event.


"And it's not just about the amount of money spent on the response and recovery, it's about how effectively these limited resources are used."

The way the Government responded to a natural hazard event, and the support it provided the local community, could have a large impact on the amount of stress residents would feel.

Stress could also have a negative impact on people's ability to make good decisions.

"If you want the economy to recover you need to look at the people at its heart."

Early results from Wither's research suggested that reducing additional unnecessary stress residents were under could have significant flow-on impacts for recovery.

Having conducted a range of interviews already, Wither planned to interview more Hurunui district locals over the coming months.

His findings were part of a larger project, supported by the Resilience to Nature's Challenges Science Challenge, investigating the Government and agricultural sectors' response to the series of adverse events the district had endured over the past decade.