New Zealand troops prepare to help with drought relief in the Northland region
© Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group
New Zealand troops prepare to help with drought relief in the Northland region.
The New Zealand army has been sent to Northland to assist in drought relief efforts after months without any rain.

The towns of Kaikohe and Kaitaia are the worst hit with severe water restrictions in place throughout February. Water is only allowed to be used for cooking, drinking or 40-second showers.

"We're running out of water", the Far North council website reads, saying its goal is to "urgently" reduce water consumption across the district by 25%. There has been no significant rainfall since November.

This week a deployment of soldiers from the New Zealand army arrived in the region and will be based in Kaitaia for two weeks. Weather forecasters predict no significant rain events for the region until the end of March.

Three medium-heavy army vehicles, each with tanks capable of carrying 5,000 litres of water, plus a hired vehicle capable of carrying 7,000 litres, are being used by the troops to deliver water to communities without town supplies. Emergency supplies will be being topped up at rural marae (Māori meeting house) and other community facilities.

The drought in Northland is the worst on record, said Kaitaia mayor John Carter, who described the situation as a "crisis".

"This is as probably as serious as it gets, this is the worst drought we've had on record," Carter told local media.

"It's getting close to running out in 10 days or so if we keep taking at the rate we are, we could run out of water in the streams, which is significant."

According to Niwa, severe meteorological drought is "widespread" across the Northland, Auckland and Waikato regions of the north island, with medium level droughts also spreading to southern parts of the island too.

As well as putting a strain on local communities the drought has made the summer tough for farm and wild animals, with some seen adopting unusual and unnatural behaviours to cope, including the usually nocturnal kiwi spotted bathing and drinking in local streams in broad daylight. Conservationists have labelled the kiwis' unusual behaviour as "disturbing".

The government has granted Northland $2m in drought relief assistance, but admitted the money was little more than a stop-gap as long-term climate change predictions will see the region becoming drier and hotter each year - something local councils should have planned for.

"This is essentially a short-term remedy to an impending crisis," said the minister for regional affairs Shane Jones.