Brothers Haukapuanui and Sonny Vercoe (Te Arawa, Tūwharetoa, Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, Ngāti Pāhauwera, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tahu) grew up on their marae in Te Arawa. They feel at home at both Pounamunui, near Lake Rotoiti, and Ohaki marae, on the banks of the Waikato river. Growing up in the middle of a thermal region, and near major waterways, they understand only too well the power and unpredictability of nature. Given their upbringing on the marae, attending kohanga reo and kura, the brothers also understand how marae support their surrounding communities in good times and in bad.

Haukapuanui and Sonny are former NPM Raumati interns and currently engineering PhD students at the University of Auckland. The brothers have committed their doctoral research to ensure marae are more resilient in natural hazard events.

“When natural hazard events occur, marae are always the ones that mobilise rapidly, our people just do that normally anyway. Marae are often the focal point for whānau and the wider community in times of need. We know that marae are always in a state of preparedness - with tangihanga and large events. In many cases, marae are under-resourced, with many having infrastructure, services, and buildings in need of repair or upgrade. Despite the complexity of hosting the multitudes with limited resources, marae have demonstrated effective emergency management, response and relief in recent hazard events,” says Haukapuanui.

Sonny’s research is focusing on the earthquake resilience of wharenui while Haukapuanui has looked at the infrastructure resilience and hazard exposure of marae throughout Aotearoa.

Haukapuanui has conducted a geospatial hazard analysis of 869 marae nationwide to assess how they could be impacted by natural hazards including flooding, earthquakes, landslides, liquefaction and tsunami.

He has used GIS (Geographic Information System Mapping) and overlayed different datasets to identify which marae are a risk to specific natural hazards. His findings showed that in a 500-year tsunami, five to 10 percent are exposed to inundation, 10-20 percent of marae are in tsunami evacuation zones, 20-30 percent are prone to earthquake-induced landslides, and 30-40 percent are susceptible to liquefaction and flooding.

Over a cup of tea with their aunty, Mere Vercoe, the brothers realised their mahi was aligned, and that sparked the idea to collaborate. Mere had already been leading marae emergency preparedness plans at Te Arawa Lakes Trust, so joining forces was the obvious path.

 “Working alongside Te Arawa Lakes Trust presented a golden opportunity to give back to our marae and complement their mahi,” says Haukapuanui.  The project has seen the brothers visit over 20 marae throughout Te Arawa to share their research, collaborate and kōrero with marae about plans to become more resilient.

“It has been awesome to work with our marae in Te Arawa because we whakapapa to all of them. Not only was it a chance to co-design, co-develop and co-create marae emergency preparedness plans, but it also strengthened our whakapapa ties,” says Haukapuanui.

He says most whānau wish to be self-sufficient, to enable them to have on-site back-up options for when power, communication and water are not available. “We looked at some engineering solutions that might address that, and some solutions could be as simple as getting water tanks, solar panels and Starlink for communication, and first-aid kits,” says Haukapuanui.

During their research, the brothers found marae often do not receive support from various government agencies, including Civil Defence, in return for the support they give to the community in times of crisis. 

Haukapuanui believes that resourcing marae to increase their natural hazard resilience is the critical challenge that must be addressed and he supports the independent review

of Cyclone Gabrielle, which highlights the need to formalise iwi involvement in Civil Defence Emergency Management structures. 

“For our PhD research, we wanted to be guided by the needs of our whānau, hapū, iwi and marae. We also wanted to ensure that our rangahau would have meaningful, practical and real-world application. The collaborative approach to the rangahau has made all the difference and the unique opportunity to work alongside Te Arawa Lakes Trust and all of our marae has been a huge success,” says Haukapuanui.

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