Socio-economic factors have often been ignored when councils and other agencies assess the risks to a community such as Thames from climate change and sealevel rise. The emphasis has been on how low-lying an area may be and on sea walls and “protection”.
What has been missing is the consideration that many individuals, communities, and businesses in Thames will be more susceptible to climate-related hazards than others elsewhere.
Reasons for greater vulnerability of individuals or families may include -:
- low income,
- age (e.g. children and elderly),
- poor health,
- low quality housing,
- lack of social connectedness,
- low levels of education, and
Many of these characteristics are captured by New Zealand’s Socioeconomic Deprivation Index, which is an aggregate measure of Census data on employment income, income from benefits, levels of employment, qualifications, home ownership, communication, support, living space, and transport.
In previous blogs I have looked at the physical characteristics of Thames which makes Thames particularly vulnerable to sea level rise – e.g. low lying and subsiding land, at high risk from storm surges, and little or no physical protection from coastal flooding. But we also must consider the social and financial well-being of people living in Thames and other local communities when considering risk and vulnerability.
Thames foreshore suburbs have the highest level of social deprivation
This map confirms that much of the low-lying Thames foreshore has a social deprivation index of 10, – the highest rating. The suburbs of Moanataiari and Tararu which are also high-risk areas have a social deprivation index of 6-8.
Another contributing factor is Thames’ age demographic, with around 30% of Thames population aged over 65 – the highest in the country. Projections have a rapidly increasing ageing of the town’s population with around 50% of the population being aged over 65 by 2050. Even for the elderly who own their own home, they often only have less than $10,000 in savings. They, therefore, cannot afford repairs, or rate increases for protection work. They are also more likely to be uninsured.
Two recent reports – Motu, and the Working Group Report on Adaptation have both highlighted the need to consider socio-economic factors when assessing the risk to a community from climate change and sealevel rise.
Unfortunately for Thames, it is already rated as one of the most at risk places in New Zealand when you consider just physical factors and the value of property. When you add to that mix the fact that those same areas on the Thames foreshore have the very highest social deprivation rating, you have a recipe for an extreme risk profile.
Clearly, Thames and other local communities are going to require major assistance from not just TCDC, but from central government. It’s going to be up to our local political, business, and community leaders to make this case strongly and ensure that we get the help we need.