NELSON, New Zealand (AFP) – Increasingly severe floods driven by climate change could soon cost New Zealand as much as destructive earthquakes, a study warned on Wednesday (Aug 24).

The country is still reeling from floods that hit its South Island last week.

Experts have warned that climate change could make flooding “as destructive to New Zealand as earthquakes”, according to Wednesday’s report.

The average annual cost of repairing homes damaged by river floods in New Zealand is set to rise after reaching US$62 million (S$86 million), according to research firm CoreLogic and insurance provider Munich Re.

“New Zealand will see an increase in both the frequency and severity of weather events due to climate change,” Munich Re Australia managing director Scott Hawkins said.

Annual building repair costs could increase by more than 20 per cent by 2050, and 30 per cent by 2100, according to the research.

Flooding has wreaked havoc in South Island communities in recent years, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warning that flood-prone areas are not ready to cope with the climate crisis.

New Zealand’s largest insurer, IAG, has called for an end to building houses in flood-prone areas, saying 10 major floods over the last two years have led to total losses of around US$248 million.

But that figure pales in comparison to the devastation caused by the 2011 Canterbury earthquake, which damaged the country’s second-largest city of Christchurch and claimed 185 lives.

The earthquake triggered around US$25 billion in property claims, according to insurance company Swiss Re, making it by far the country’s most costly natural disaster.

On Monday, Ardern said the New Zealand government would put in place a national adaptation plan to better prepare the country for the effects of climate change.