Thank you all for being here, and thank you to all of you who have played a part in the workshops leading up to today.
I have been given the honour of giving expression to the purpose for which we are gathered. In speaking to our journey, today is an important milestone. This is not the first time we have gathered, and it won’t be the last.
In 2021 we will host an international conference that will bring people to Christchurch so we can focus on making a global contribution to disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change adaptation through the dual concepts of risk and resilience.
Our journey shows they are inextricably linked and equally vital to our future locally, nationally and globally.
There are people here who know the struggle that I have personally experienced, working alongside my constituents as the MP for Christchurch East when the earthquake sequence occurred, joining with the community in a collaborative response in the hard hit eastern suburbs, facing up to the experience of being red-zoned along with my neighbours, studying the essential elements of post disaster recovery, taking on the decision-makers when I felt they didn’t understand best practice, and constantly finding strength in all those who offered to help Christchurch and those existing and emerging community leaders who became confidantes and friends who have inspired me to carry on.
Learning the lessons from our experience and ensuring that they are embedded into nationwide planning for future disaster recoveries have been my drivers.
When we experience adversity, when we are traumatised by events outside our control, when we lose a loved one or a friend in circumstances that we know must have been avoidable, we look for meaning in the sure knowledge that our experience will prevent others going through what we have been through.
There are many reviews that have been undertaken and they show there were things we did incredibly well – in many respects we were much better prepared for recovery here in Christchurch than we realised – however there were mistakes made and we must not allow them to be repeated.
I always say we look back, not to blame, but to understand. And understand we must. That is our purpose.
We are here to listen to one another. We all have valuable perspectives which we share in this spirit of understanding.
There are significant highlights for me, when I reflect on the past few years. Bringing Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu to the table is one. It started with Ecan – and the government of the day must be congratulated for what was a bold move. We can now embed this in legislation, in the same way that we have done for all the regional governance structures, off the back of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011, which recognised Ngai Tahu as a strategic partner.
Leaving aside the incredible contribution to the response effort and the recovery, a highlight for me was Ngai Tahu’s partnership with Ara and Hawkins that enabled rangitahi to take up apprenticeships during the rebuild.
Recover Canterbury was a public private partnership between the public sector and the business community led by CDC and the CECC. The employee subsidy was gold and enabled businesses to sort things out without worrying about paying their staff for a short while.
Gapfiller – literally created life in vacant spaces and still does today.
CanCERN the network that self mobilised to represent the collective voices of affected communities.
Project Lyttelton which reminds us you don’t need a civil defence group when you have a timebank.
And all the creative people who have written books, made films, produced art telling our story in ways that touch our souls.
All of these will contribute to the symposium.
I was pretty well prepared for this morning earlier in the week, when an interview on an unrelated topic led me to a speech I had given back in 2012. I was referring to something I had picked up from an early recovery seminar that had been held just over three weeks after the first earthquake. I went looking for the presentation. I’ve popped the agenda up on the screen, along with a couple of pages, and highlighted the contributing agencies.
Look at the collaboration that went into bringing together such a comprehensive seminar in such a short space of time.
Look at the messages – recovery is complex. It is not linear, it is not uniform, it has multiple perspectives, and it always occurs in a dynamic environment.
I picked up a lot of messages from this presentation.
Balance deliberation & speed through leadership & collaboration.
Recovery is an opportunity for reconciliation, restoration & renewal; it is NOT just a rebuilding project
We need to involve local people in joint learning and public decision making, we need to capitalise on local culture and knowledge. We must mobilise local capacity to rebuild, and enable local communities to make choices that build safer and more sustainable communities.
And it is the last that is my trigger for what I wanted to say. Secure the things that are good for the community, and discard those things that hold us back.
This was what I had been reminded of in my speech – always look for the missing story. We know the story of the storm or the earthquake or the mine explosion or even the finance company failures – which was why I was looking for the speech. And we know what happened afterwards – people died, homes were lost, buildings destroyed, and, in the case of the financial markets, lifesavings were gone.
But what was going on before the crisis occurred – here we see identified patterns of physical development, public risk, community resilience & sustainability. It could be low appreciation of risk or high risk taking or a lack of independently monitored regulatory measures to secure high risk environments, (buildings, mines and financial markets). We are told that if we ignore this story in the recovery process we can re-entrench pre-event vulnerabilities.
If there is one thing that disaster offers us it is the opportunity to put things right, something we might never have been able to do otherwise.
So the questions I want you to have in your mind as we listen to the presentations and discuss the ideas that are generated, is, how have we addressed our pre-event vulnerabilities? Have we fully understood the world of possibility this post disaster environment offers? What opportunities have we taken to ensure that not only Greater Christchurch, but the whole of New Zealand, is more resilient to the challenges we will continue to face?
The first of the images is a pre-event map of what was expected by way of liquefaction prior to the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence. You will struggle to see any difference in the map next to it (the map showing the experience of the Sept 2010 earthquake). These two images show how accurate knowledge was about the pre-existing vulnerabilities to the damage that occurred. February was a little outside the box but not surprising given the extent of the peak ground accelerations. But it happened in the same places we knew it would.
And I have put these three slides below to show a typical house in Bexley’s Pacific Park Subdivision – before and after the quake. In the middle, are photographs I took. On the left, this photo is inside the house – and you'll see the same amount of silt outside the house – the middle is the bathroom where like the rest of the house, the silt forced its way through unreinforced concrete slab foundations. I will never understand why any (let alone so many) houses were allowed to be built alongside a wetlands in this manner.
I have put the other image there just to prove that silver beet survives anything – which probably explains why it’s so good for you. I used that joke in the US and no one laughed – because they call it chard.
The buildings on this slide are representative of the tragedy that occurred in February. We knew about Unreinforced Masonry Buildings – the first people who died in the Hawkes Bay earthquake 80 years before had been killed by falling masonry as they ran out of buildings. And the CTV Building – it had been found wanting in an inspection years before the earthquakes, and it hadn’t been properly assessed after the September earthquake.
The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry began only 2 months after the February 2011 earthquake and was concluded just over 18 months later.
Changes have been made, good changes that will make a difference, however there remains unfinished business in the regulatory framework for buildings after an earthquake has compromised them or the land they sit on.
The issue that worries me still is this.
Our law distinguishes between dangerous buildings and earthquake prone buildings. The distinction between the two relates to whether or not a potential collapse is dependent on an earthquake. We had a major earthquake in September 2010.
By February 22, 2011 no legal obligation had been created by any regulatory or statutory authority that required anyone, unless they were specifically directed to do so, to undertake a detailed engineering evaluation of buildings that were occupied or insufficiently cordoned on that day. 185 People died – 115 people died in one building. Hundreds more were injured. Of the remaining people, over half were killed by falling unreinforced masonry. Why all these years later, do we not say that someone has to be responsible for ensuring buildings are safe to occupy before we allow people to return. Every local authority and every government department has a threshold for checking. If it’s important for public buildings, then why not privately owned buildings?
We owe it to those who lost their lives or were severely injured, as well as all their families, that we get this right. There is a Bill before Parliament right now that could do that with a simple amendment.
The question I ask, looking at the missing story, is have we really addressed the vulnerabilities that were exposed – both in terms of land use and the built environment – and therefore have we learned the lessons from our experience.
I think in both cases, we have come a long way, but still have some way to go. The Resource Management Act continues to prioritise existing use rights even where there is a marked increased vulnerability to natural hazards, and with the built environment we still don’t have a mechanism for ensuring buildings are safe to occupy after an event.
This paper was produced in May 2011, by the PM’s Chief Science Adviser. It covered the psychosocial consequences of the Canterbury earthquakes, incorporating information that had been put together after the September earthquake by the Public Health unit of the Canterbury DHB. I found it a year later. It’s not that it was hidden – it just wasn’t proactively sent out to all the local MPs and other community leaders to assist us to understand the challenges we were having to confront in the community on a daily basis. And given that this was known, why wasn’t it incorporated into the recovery from the outset?
It talks about the four phases: (1) the initial heroic phase (2) A honeymoon phase (3) The ‘disillusionment phase’ in which people realize how long recovery will take and become angry and frustrated. (4) And then finally people return to a new equilibrium, but he cautioned that this is a long term process with no clear endpoint.
And maybe in this is the answer to my question. The fear of the disillusionment phase would be strong for a decision-maker under pressure to deliver. It’s worth exploring, but more importantly, we cannot let it happen again.
The key issue for recovery, we were told in this report, is a psychological sense of empowerment. The earthquake was a disempowering event – an event that individuals had no control over. The need to regain some sense of some control over one’s life is central to the recovery process. Disempowerment essentially reinforces the initial trauma.
A feeling of self-efficacy and community efficacy assists the population in reactivating their coping mechanisms.
Local governance, empowerment and ownership have been shown to facilitate recovery.
The inevitable tensions and conflicts in achieving this are obvious and cannot be avoided – therefore, they have to be openly handled with sensitivity. It follows that, from the psychosocial perspective, those involved in directing the recovery should create governance structures that understand and actively include community participation, and enhance individual and community resilience. Such approaches will be most likely to be effective in re-establishing coping and functioning communities.
I have to say that when I read this a year down the track, I asked myself why we hadn’t embraced the community in this way.
The good thing is that it’s never too late.
Resilience begins and ends with connected communities. I have put up the cynical voices from Christchurch and New Orleans. That’s the response to the well-meant but not well received congratulations we receive for being so resilient when they mean stoic.
I put up the word cloud to remind us that resilience doesn’t mean strong – look at the words – flexibility, adaptation, creativity, diversity, community, respect, change, cooperation. It’s all there.
The capacity to adapt and to thrive in a co-created new normal. That requires trust – both ways – and it requires communities to actively seek to take back responsibility for their futures. All the evidence says that’s the case.
I found this on the last page of the September 2010 recovery best-practice seminar – it was adopted by the Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network -CanCERN – as their motto: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.”
I said at the governance workshop, that on reflection, I would personally say that the wisdom of the community when combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other.
And that’s what this symposium is all about.