Christchurch needs decisions

by Listener Archive / 20 June, 2011
If the authorities don’t get their act together soon, earthquake anger could bubble over.
Greg Bowker/NZ Herald


Pity Christchurch. Not that pity is what the embattled citizens of New Zealand’s second-largest city most want, of course. Sympathy? They will take that. Assistance? Definitely. But most urgently, they want decisions, money and action.

From the start, everyone knew this would be a long haul, although back in September when the first big earthquake struck, no one would have predicted that a much more devastating quake would come and bring with it such a terrible human toll. Now, geologists and geophysicists have sketched likely scenarios for the frequency and size of earthquakes to come, based on computer modelling, but no one can say for certain when or how they will strike.

That is something people in Christchurch know they have to live with. No one has control over tectonic forces. What is harder for people to accept – especially those whose homes have been badly damaged or whose properties have proved subject to liquefaction, slips or rockfall – is that many of them still have no certainty about the future of their properties, neighbourhoods and suburbs and so they cannot make plans. It is the not knowing that is weakening people’s resilience more quickly than the aftershocks that keep on coming.

The aftermath of the September and February earthquakes has been characterised by an outpouring of support and efforts to clean up and make the affected areas of the city as workable as circumstances allow. Millions of hours of labour have been spent on that task and there is nothing to suggest the local authorities, utility companies, Government, CERA and every other agency are not totally committed to the job. But residents are justified in their growing frustration.

Naturally, it is important that decisions, especially those around abandoning whole streets and suburbs, are made fully and with as much information as possible. The two big aftershocks last Monday will, in some cases, have reinforced the geotechnical conclusions that professionals were already coming to about which areas should never be built on again.

But there are thousands of other properties where the land itself is not part of the problem. There are whole streets of damaged houses whose occupants have been forced to find accommodation elsewhere, and who have not received a dollar from the Earthquake Commission or their insurance companies. That process seems unnecessarily and inexplicably tortuous. These people will have seen with dismay the news that the EQC and Insurance Council will ask the High Court for a declaratory judgment to clarify when the maximum EQC cover of $115,000 for a damaged property is reinstated after a natural disaster.

The idea that the insurance process could get bogged down in court action will, to many Christ­church residents, be as hard to cope with as another big aftershock. Thousands of homeowners are awaiting their $115,000 EQC payout, with the difference between that and the total damage to be made up by their insurance companies. Those with insurance cover are owed that money today. They were owed it yesterday. Until that money starts to flow, many Christchurch residents are stuck with no options and caught in their temporary accommodation with time counting down as to how long their insurer will cover the rent. In that hiatus lies the risk that frustration will turn to anger and even civil disobedience.

It is plain that some decisions about abandoning areas have already been made, but the Government does not want to announce them until it can offer people extra information, alternatives and assistance. That might be well meaning but residents are desperate for solid information, even if it is bad news. If their house is never going to be rebuilt, they want to be told that plainly, and now. It is their right to have that information as soon as those decisions are made.

There is no “best-practice” guide for anyone to follow in managing a disaster that keeps on keeping on. It is a matter of applying scientific information, common sense, good judgment, intelligence, compassion and effort. And yes, patience, too. But patience can be maintained only as long as authorities retain the goodwill and support of the people they are serving. There is a growing sense that, like some of Christchurch’s most famous landmarks, that support is collapsing.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Jacinda Ardern: Government's focus turns to '300-day plan'
86114 2018-01-22 06:38:40Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern: Government's focus turns to '300-d…

by Mei Heron

Labour's caucus meets for the first time this year, with the PM saying there are still policies to be finalised for the govt's first 100 days.

Read more
New Zealanders have long loved a good ghost story
86094 2018-01-22 00:00:00Z History

New Zealanders have long loved a good ghost story

by Redmer Yska

We New Zealanders are known for being down to earth and no-nonsense, but there's a surprising number of Kiwi stories with a supernatural element.

Read more
How to avoid burnout at work
86051 2018-01-22 00:00:00Z Psychology

How to avoid burnout at work

by Marc Wilson

Taking positive steps at work will help keep weariness at bay.

Read more
A puppy-buyer's guide to getting a new dog
86100 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

A puppy-buyer's guide to getting a new dog

by Sally Blundell

Just saying “oh, how adorable” is not all you need to do before taking on a new dog.

Read more
Tarawera eruption: What was the mysterious ghost canoe?
86076 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z History

Tarawera eruption: What was the mysterious ghost c…

by Dale Williams

For more than 130 years, lovers of ghost stories have enjoyed talking about one of our most enduring mysteries: the Phantom Canoe of Lake Tarawera.

Read more
How to get the health benefits of nuts without the cost
85733 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to get the health benefits of nuts without the…

by Jennifer Bowden

You need 30g of nuts a day to maximise their health benefits. Here's some tips on how to do it without putting a hole in your wallet.

Read more
Model car collector Winton Amies: 'I'm just a big kid collecting toys'
84783 2018-01-21 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Model car collector Winton Amies: 'I'm just a big …

by Guy Frederick

When Amies moved to Naseby’s old butcher shop 22 years ago, he brought 1200 model cars with him; now he has more than 3000.

Read more
Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bulldogs
86110 2018-01-20 10:49:32Z Business

Trade Me bans sale of pugs, British and French bul…

by Sally Blundell

As a result of growing concern over the welfare of pugs, British and French bulldogs, Trade Me has announced they're banning the sale of these breeds.

Read more