In January of 2023, a marine heat wave, set up by La Niña and turbocharged by climate change triggered severe flash flooding in Tāmaki Makaurau. A combination of factors: The water temperature being six degrees higher than average and a deceptive atmospheric river meant that a storm brewed, with a state of emergency declared late in the evening. This deluge disproportionately affected several suburbs across the city, including Māngere. Among those affected were residents – Olsen Palaamo and Farasat Shafi Ullah, both of whom have experienced the devastating consequences of recent floods. As we delve into the heart of this community, we uncover tales of resilience, unity, and determination to forge a brighter future. This is the untold story of Māngere’s climate warriors, outraged but optimistic, rising together even above waters.
Just before midnight, Olsen and his wife decided to navigate waist-deep water, cradling their four-month-old daughter amid intense rainfall, fearing “if the water level continues to rise, what will we do next?”. Personal treasures—photographs, books, cherished mementos; succumbed to the deluge. The trauma of that night lingers, compounded by the arduous process of dealing with insurers, who were overloaded by thousands of flood-related claims, the mammoth task of cleaning up the aftermath and the uncertainty of their home’s future. But even if their homes were fully restored, a cloud of unease lingers: “we’re worried about when the next weather event will occur and how badly our area would be affected”. Much of Māngere, similar to many other gentrified areas around the country, sits on flood-prone land, and there are few resiliency measures being implemented to mitigate the risk. Scientists and climate activists warn that flooding and other extreme weather events will only continue to exacerbate with the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s biggest emitters which include Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, Affco and Alliance contribute to the agriculture sector accounting for 51% of emissions and are largely exempt from Climate laws such as the Emissions Trading Scheme. Leaving them free to pump out atmosphere-torching methane to their heart’s (and shareholders) content. With global temperatures continuing to rise both at home and around the globe, so does the number of natural disasters with recent catastrophes in Morocco, Libya, Pakistan, Canada and Turkey – disproportionately affecting communities on the front line.
Similarly, for Farasat’s family, January 27th is etched into their memory as a “once-in-a-blue-moon” incident that turned their lives upside down. As new homeowners in Aotearoa New Zealand, they were eager to assimilate into their new neighbourhood. However, the floods exposed the ill-planned infrastructure and challenged their dreams of a flourishing future. Enduring the chaos of the floods and navigating a night of uncertainty, they found solace in their local community’s support. Amidst the chaos, Māngere’s residents banded together, sharing their concerns, progress on home repairs, and the weight of their experiences. Their collective strength and determination to seek solutions have become a beacon of hope for the wider region, with existing groups such as I Am Māngere delivering food parcels and other tools to residents . Olsen, Farasat and their newly created neighbourhood group “Thrive in Māngere” have recognised the importance of addressing the local Te Ararata Stream and stormwater drain management to mitigate future flooding risks, with their “Sort Our Stormwater (SOS)” campaign. The group has successfully reached out to local governing bodies – Auckland Council, Watercare and Healthy Waters for the maintenance of culverts before/after significant weather events, upgrades to stormwater system designs and infrastructure modelling to handle climate change impacts of today and for the future with the aid of Government funding throughout the city.
A year on, communities are still feeling the pressure. As waters recede and scars heal, the need for change, unity, and resilience becomes clear. Through collective action, we can confront climate challenges and forge a resilient, hopeful tomorrow.