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Drya and not so dry ... Hills near Hawarden show the effects of rain which has fallen in pockets of North Canterbury in recent weeks. Photos: Amanda Bowes
Dry and not so dry … Hills near Hawarden parched from lack of rain (top) and the same hills showing a slow recovery thanks to rain which has fallen in pockets in North Canterbury.. Photos: Amanda Bowes

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Rain continues to fall in pockets in North Canterbury, but the effects of the persistent drought that has hit the area are far from over.

Soil moisture levels across Canterbury are still well below normal, streams and ponds have not yet recharged and aquifer levels low.

Environment Canterbury says the driest areas have received 59 percent of their normal annual rainfall in 2016 and this follows only 50 percent of normal in 2015.

But the rain, along with reaffirmation of support by local businesses and sector organisations, has lifted spirits.

Hurunui Mayor and Hurunui Drought Response Committee chairman Winton Dalley says every little bit of rain is helping, but adds the drought has gone on so long rural towns and support industries around farming are unable to avoid the “knock-on effects”.

But he is heartened by the continued commitment of support as tentative hopes are raised that it’s the beginning of the end of the longest drought in living memory in North Canterbury.

“Agribusiness representatives have clearly shown their ongoing willingness to go the extra mile to help keep their community going.

“By working with their customers – in some cases with special discounts and deferred payments to help them through the current tight spot – local businesses are proving key to helping the community through until soil moisture improves.”

The drought has seen farmers standing up as spokespeople for their neighbours, reaching out to rural people who otherwise can end up isolated and becoming impromptu event and sponsorship organisers.

One recent rural Farm Break event, hosted on a local farm at Andy Fox’s shed, attracted more than 400 people and was supported by two dozen local and national businesses.

Rural Support Trust Chair Doug Archbold says what is really heartening is that even some city people are still coming with offers of help and support.

“Last month after I featured speaking on Radio Live, a lady from Christchurch called me up asking how she could help families with young children. I put her in touch with a family going through a really difficult time and she generously donated them a huge amount of pet food for the children’s pets; laundry powder, cleaning products and a cash gift.

“And a Christchurch service club is giving a generous donation to one of our ‘cheer up’ barbecues later in the spring,” he says.

“It shows that people really care in Canterbury.”

Mr Dalley says with such a strong community and the support of businesses, “everyone in the Hurunui is working hard to come out of this drought not only intact, but stronger and wiser than ever.”

The drought covering Canterbury, Marlborough and parts of Otago was first classified as a medium scale event in February 2015 and has twice been extended. Currently standard medium-scale drought assistance measures remain in place until 31 December 2016.

Rural Support Trusts

Rural Support Trusts can be contacted on 0800 RURAL HELP for free and confidential advice for any rural farmer, grower, or family member. Trusts are staffed by local people and are available in peacetime as well as when there is an event such as a drought.