It is a privilege to be invited to say a few words. To do so in the presence of this year's Global Hillary Laureate is particularly meaningful for me given the journey we have been on as a city since the first earthquake struck on September 4 2010.
I tell people I am not the same person I was three years ago. I have combined my lived experience as a Member of Parliament representing the eastern suburbs of Christchurch during this time with the knowledge of others who have studied, lived or worked in post disaster environments across the world. I literally became a human sponge soaking up all I could learn about response, recovery and then resilience.
Joining the UNISDR's Advisory Group of Parliamentarians on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) last year was a turning point for me. I started to develop a context for what we had experienced in global terms.
I came to understand that there was no such thing as a natural disaster – the earthquake last night was natural but it wasn't a disaster – that comes when there is an impact on people. Once I understood this, I realised that disaster risk reduction was connected with more than natural hazards. Reducing the risk of disasters required us to think about everything from sustainable land use to food and water security to climate change adaptation and to grassroots community development.
Disaster risk reduction involves every part of society, every part of government and every part of the professional and private sector. It requires a long term view.
The less prepared people are for an adverse event or the less resilient they and their natural, built, social and
economic environments are, the greater the disaster risk - hazard multiplied by exposure, divided by resilience or coping capacity equals disaster risk.
This linked to some reading I had done on emergence and resilience, which highlighted that governments are going to be increasingly called upon to serve in highly complex and uncertain circumstances, where public issues regularly emerge as surprises and require equally emergent responses. This is why promoting the resilience of individuals, communities and society is so vital.
When we cannot possibly predict with accuracy what we will have to respond to at any time in the future – the effects of climate change, a disaster triggered by a natural event or a crisis triggered of our own making like the global financial crisis - communities need to be prepared to respond themselves.
New Zealand is a signatory to the Hyogo Framework for Action, which is a 10 year planning tool designed to substantially reduce disaster losses by building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters.
It concludes in 2015, the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in the prefecture which gave the framework its name. In 2015 the international community will come together to determine what takes it place at the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.
I believe New Zealand has paid lip-service until now in terms of our commitment to disaster risk reduction.
In my view Christchurch could present a powerful narrative in light of our experience and could present a unique perspective on a variety of themes: preparedness, land use from cliff tops to floodplains, life risk, climate change, building social capital and the importance of emergent community responders like the Student Volunteer Army.
Our experience of disaster connects us to other parts of the world that have also experienced disaster and in my view that demands that we take a leadership role.
We have as much to gain as we have to offer as the world grapples with these incredibly challenging issues.
Perhaps what we do here will help inform a world where over 2.8 billion people – over 40% of the total global population - live in coastal cities, which are particularly vulnerable to stresses caused by climate change and human pressures. How do our coastal communities best prepare for sea level rise and increasingly frequent extreme storm events?
Do we have the courage to hold a national conversation about what this means for us and could we start that conversation here in Christchurch?
My questions are simple, if not here, then where; if not now, then when?
We have experienced disaster – now we must build on the opportunity that affords; an opportunity that extends to the way we govern.
As one writer put it:
"Resilience involves the transformation of the role of citizens and grassroots organisations from that of stakeholders, who are able at best to advise governments, to full equity partners. Equity partners are full shareholders, equally able to participate in the design and implementation of disaster-related efforts."
If we, in government whether local or central, helped our communities to develop their own capacity to engage in local governance in a meaningful way, communities would not only be better prepared for disaster should one strike, but would also be better and safer places to live.
We are literally building the newest city in the world and we have been given the chance to get this right.