The impact of severe weather on Northland pharmacies

The rainfall for Northland and Auckland has had a severe impact on the infrastructure of Northland, with constant road closures cutting off access to the region through the first half of 2023. Unfortunately, rain-related infrastructure closures are nothing new to Northland. When the region is cut off thoughts turn to the impact on food supply, however another incredibly important supply chain in often also impacted: prescription medicines.

The impact of severe weather on Northland pharmacies
Image captured from NIWA's website (, illustrating the impact of severe weather on Northland in February 1952.

In February 2023, the New Zealand Herald published an article titled “Six times monthly average as parts of Northland get wettest January on record,” with NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Taihoro Nukurangi) having recorded between 400-800 percent more rain than usual across several regions of Aotearoa New Zealand. In March, Stuff published “Northland’s torrential downpour sets new national rainfall record.” A month later in April, the town of Kaikohe in Northland had its second highest average rainfall for April and its highest April one-day rainfall since records began in 1956.

“Northland's always been a hard spot to supply everyone with medicine, particularly more remote parts if you're trying to get things out to people, but that's getting worse.” - Tim Walker, Far North pharmacist
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Kerikeri Unichem Pharmacy, one of the pharmacies in the cluster Tim Walker works for.

Following Cyclone Gabrielle in early February, Tim Walker’s cluster of pharmacies in the Bay of Islands were without drug deliveries for a week and they were not alone. The Whangārei-based depot that supplies Northland pharmacies flooded, as did all access roads to the depot. Subsequently no deliveries were possible. For Tim’s pharmacy cluster, they had to make collective decisions on rationing medicines, with some prescriptions only partially filled. Though Tim says the legislation doesn’t necessarily support the decision his cluster made, he said it was more important to partially fill as many prescriptions as possible, to make sure everyone who needed the medications had access to them until the next delivery was possible.

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Power outages in the Far North on 13 February 2023.

“We needed to think very carefully about what we were giving out. It was important stuff. Anticoagulants and blood pressure medication. We were running out of Dabigatran. We were running out of Rivaroxaban. We were running out of Perindopril. We were running out of really basic cardiovascular medication, which could have immediate and material consequences if people didn't have it.”


Small pharmacies cannot take the financial risk of stockpiling medicines in case of future emergencies. The cost of medications is skyrocketing and while Tim says all the inventories in his pharmacy cluster are up at least 50% on what they would have been a few years ago, the financial risk is high. Medicines expire, and for those that require refrigeration like insulin, relying on a consistent power supply in Northland is touch and go. Stockpiling medicines also comes with societal risks. If pharmacies began to stockpile in case of future emergencies, they would be removing access to the stock for in-need pharmacies and communities across the country. The global supply chain for medicines has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic and some container lines still aren’t running to New Zealand.


Severe weather has had an incredible impact on the supply of medicines in Northland already in 2023. As the impacts of climate change are felt and continue to grow, access to necessities such as medicines in the regions need to be assured.