Welcome to Christchurch and welcome to the People in Disasters Conference.
Over the next three days you will have the opportunity to explore the themes of Response, Recovery and Resilience with a range of excellent local, national and international speakers. Our city of Christchurch provides a certain context but it is not the only reason that this conference is important.
I am only sorry that I can’t remain for the conference.
As a Member of Parliament at the time of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence and now Mayor of Christchurch in what is a post disaster environment, I really related to Prof Mike Ardagh's statement on the People in Disasters Conference website, where he said this:
As an Emergency Medicine Physician working in the regional hospital during the Canterbury earthquake I became an accidental earthquake academic, fascinated by how people, communities and health systems were affected by and responded to this extraordinary and devastating event.
I too became an accidental expert on Disaster Risk Reduction, and I too was fascinated by what had happened, as well as how people, communities and systems were affected and responded.
However I have come to realise that a phrase like ‘accidental expert’ is a lot like the phrase ‘anecdotal evidence’. It isn't actually evidence but it’s a comforting frame of reference for a non-expert like me.
I’m not saying that only experts have something to offer – to the contrary, to say that would be to misinterpret the word ‘expert’.
I have come to understand how important local knowledge is, and that of course includes the oral traditions of indigenous peoples. A scientifically researched evidence base can miss vital elements when it is not informed by local knowledge.
The Canterbury Community Earthquake Recovery Network – which was established by local resident associations and community groups to ensure they had a voice in the recovery – had as its motto: ‘the wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts’.
Again my experience is that that is not quite right – I would say the wisdom of the community combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other.
When the first earthquake struck, I was a Member of Parliament representing the eastern suburbs of Christchurch. We were very hard hit by liquefaction – something I’d never heard of before then. I remember saying to my husband the day after looking at the damage in the electorate that it had something to do with the water.
That began what I describe as my journey of discovery.
And five years on, welcoming you to this People in Disasters Conference in my role as Mayor of Christchurch, is very much a part of that journey.
The themes Response, Recover, Resilience are integrally linked and that link is all about people and connections. Whatever discipline you represent the connections are critical. Whether you are here as a local, national or international participant, there is much we can learn from each other.
I have attended many conferences both here in New Zealand and internationally since the earthquakes struck. I have made it a point to visit recovery and reconstruction authorities in other parts of the world. I have always been welcomed with open arms.
There is a collaborative spirit – a willingness to share knowledge and information - in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction that speaks to the reality of a post disaster environment, when the silos we often work in are broken down by necessity.
I haven’t quite worked out yet why we reconstruct them once the crisis is over. Everyone I have ever spoken to about working in a post disaster environment loved those walls coming down.
I spoke at the Sendai Workshop yesterday and talked about my ‘aha’ moment. I attended a science conference in Washington DC. I was listening to a range of speakers and although they were covering different topics, I suddenly became aware they were all talking about the same thing.
I realised then that disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development were all the same and the solutions were too; and that they were all wrapped up in the word resilience.
That’s why I became a champion of resilience and why I was determined that Christchurch would become part of the 100 Resilient Cities Network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation as their centennial challenge in 2013. I was motivated to join a network that understood that resilience was a journey not a destination and to explore, and again I am quoting your own conference website:
'The ability of people and communities not just to recover from, but thrive in the face and aftermath of adversity'
This is what is called the Resilience Dividend, which is the title of a book written by Judith Rodin, the chair of the Rockefeller Foundation.
She ends her book with the following words:
“There is no ultimate or end state of resilience. But, by working together to build resilience to the greatest degree possible, we can reduce our reliance on crisis as a driver of change and, instead, deliberately take the future into our own hands – for the well-being of our families, our communities, our cities, and indeed, the planet we all share.”
Every one of the contributors to this conference brings a different component of the resilience dividend to the table.
At yesterday’s workshop I commented about the connection with health promotion and resilience.
I was elected to Parliament the year after the Ottawa Charter was created. It says:
Health promotion works through concrete and effective community action in setting priorities, making decisions, planning strategies and implementing them to achieve better health. At the heart of this process is the empowerment of communities - their ownership and control of their own endeavours and destinies.
Community development draws on existing human and material resources in the community to enhance self-help and social support, and to develop flexible systems for strengthening public participation in and direction of health matters. This requires full and continuous access to information, learning opportunities for health, as well as funding support.
This philosophy lies at the heart of disaster recovery and in many respects has been missing in action here.
I have spoken of the importance of lessons learned. I have warned of the dangers of setting up new unfamiliar structures that diminish the community’s capacity to own and control their own endeavours and destinies. It is so much better to start from where the community is – what are the local institutions, plans and strategies – can they be re-purposed leaving stronger institutions behind once the crisis has passed.
But the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that those in government must stop thinking of we, the citizens, as taxpayers and consumers of the services we provide. This is enormously challenging, but if we can’t do this in the light of what we have experienced here in Christchurch then we will lose the chance to turn our disaster into the real opportunity it presents. I found some descriptors, which define a much better role for central and local government:
- Enablers within a framework of collective responsibility;
- Partners who use their power and that of the State to support the contributions of others; partnership depending as it does on trust, goodwill and mutual respect;
- Facilitators who convene citizens and organisations to build communities of purpose, to identify the areas of risk and greatest potential;
- Collaborative actors who work with others to coordinate decisions and to achieve concerted actions;
- Stewards of the collective interest with the power to intervene and to course-correct when the public interest demands it;
- Leaders to achieve convergence and a common sense of purpose.
There is much that we can gain from having lived this experience.
This Conference will contribute much to the knowledge that we will share with other cities in New Zealand and around the world.
Thank you for coming to Christchurch and being part of our journey.