On Wednesday night, Green health spokesperson Kevin Hague and myself went to the second public meeting in Havelock North to listen to community concerns in the wake of the disastorous gastric illness outbreak. It was a sobering experience. The presentations by the Hastings District Council, Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council were mainly a study in how to present yourself in the best possible light when things have gone badly wrong.
Some of this is fair enough but some of it was not impressing the audience. Some of it was pretty scary. The possible secondary effects of campylobacter, which will only affect a small number of people, are quite serious.
People wanted to know why communications were so patchy and slow. The District Council is taking this on board. A kaumatua wanted to know why his Havelock kohanga reo received no communications about the crisis. Two mokopuna got quite sick. The health services generally seem to have stepped up and been effective, although the lack of reporting between schools, health services and local authorities was commented on. People want a system that requires schools to report developing sickness outbreaks in a more coordinated way.
Many of the questions related to the possible causes of the outbreak. Hawke’s Bay Regional Council said they had ruled out nothing (which was weird because a few days ago they were adamant the contamination could not have come from the Tukituki River). They said they were going to do more tests around the paddocks and the Mangateretere stream adjacent to the Brookfield Rd bores, which have been contaminated.
They also gave us an unconvincing lecture on how swimmable the locals rivers are – not what locals tell me about the Ngaruroro lower reaches or the Clive. They did concede the Tukituki river is polluted. Their scientist was adamant that the Tukituki river was too far away to cause the problem and the aquifer would soak up the contamination as it travels. This is the opposite of what the hydrologist who studied the aquifer for GNS for a number of years told me, which is very confusing.
There was strong applause when someone asked the Regional Council why they had threatened to prosecute the District Council over the bores issue and why not all work together for a solution?
Everyone was very polite but there was a simmering tension in the large hall and a sense that there was a low level of trust. Some people still look fragile and unwell. The requirement to keep boiling water is taking its toll. It was probably the only time I have been to a public meeting and not spoken in my whole life but it was the community’s space to ask questions. The Council has promised a referendum on chlorination.
The next day I visited a local cafe who were hosting primary school students in cooking lessons. About half the class of kids told me they had been sick. The cafe owners were deeply concerned about the water quality issues as well as the loss of revenue. They urged me to keep fighting for clean rivers and to ask the Government the hard questions about land uses affecting water. No one believes aliens landed and poisoned Havelock North! Everyone I met is worried about the state of local waterways and especially the Tukituki.
Later I went out to the bore field and saw the Regional Council doing some tests. It would be great to pin down what has happened, identify the”ruminant” who caused this crisis and make sure it cannot reoccur. We may never know exactly what happened but either way, how about stopping the pollution of rivers by sewage plants and intensive agriculture? That would be a good start.