Why I accepted the CERA Invitation to the Rebuild and Recovery Forum…
Last week I had 4 people come to my office to talk to me about the slowness of the earthquake recovery in the east and their regular struggles with suicidal thoughts as they are overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. Almost every week I am coming across someone new telling me that they no longer have any energy left to deal with earthquake issues. It breaks my heart to find that three years on, we are still far from recovery. Things have not been done well in the recovery process, thus leaving many people distraught and broken.
The last three years have highlighted a number of issues to me
1. Communication Failure
Accurate and efficient communication is critical in a disaster. It is probably the number one factor that determines the success of any disaster management effort. In the last 3 years mixed messages were given by various agencies. This added to the confusion in Christchurch during the last 3 years.
2. Who is in charge?
Weak institutional structures led to the breakdown of the recovery process. The creation of CERA was to enable an effective, timely and coordinated rebuilding and recovery effort in Canterbury. However this created tension between the various stake holders that affected the efficiency of this institution, and there is a sense that in the last 3 years not a lot has been done that would benefit the residents still struggling with a variety of issues. This has led to the formation of various lobby groups to fight for the interests of the citizens.
3. Meaningless Platitudes
Early on in the recovery, people were interested in the information that was being circulated by the CERA, the government and SCIRT. However as time went on, people started getting tired of hearing repetitive and overused statements that meant nothing in reality. Dates for recovery and rebuilding kept changing; promises kept changing and the concerns of the citizens of Christchurch kept being ignored. No wonder there is a sense that this evening’s forum is a waste of time.
4. Meaning of Normality
The earthquake in Christchurch has created a ‘new normal’. We can’t look back to the way we lived our lives in the past. We will never get back there. There is a lot of pain in Christchurch because we have lost a lot. Christchurch is my adopted home. I have lived in this city for 7 years. As I drive around, I feel a strong sense of sadness because The Christchurch I came to in 2006 is not the same city today. If I feel this sadness, then those that have grown up in this city must also find it hard. Three years have past and my observation is that people are still grieving for things that have been lost.
5. Finding the window latch
Laurie Johnson, an urban planner from the United States, uses a term “windows of opportunity” that open and close in time after a major disaster. There may be a sense that not a lot has happened for a number of people in Christchurch in the last 3 years. We can look back and regret the many missed opportunities because of the failure to listen and comprehend what is taking place in the city. But one thing I have learned in living through a major disaster is that sometimes it’s not easy to find that latch to take advantage of that opportunity. For me a new city council and a fresh call by CERA to talk is another window of opportunity. Could we find the latch this evening to take advantage of that window of opportunity?
Maybe I am being overly optimistic but I want to do my part in finding that latch to open the window of opportunity. I have no idea what is going to happen tonight. What I am hoping is that at this Rebuild & Recovery Forum there will be an acknowledgement that wrongs have taken place over the last 3 years but there is a determination to find the way forward for all of us in Christchurch. There is this Bible verse that is going around my head….”I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead..” (Philippians 3: 13). I have yet to understand what the rebuild and recovery means for me in Christchurch but I want to forget the failures of the past and look forward to what lies ahead.
Kia Kaha Christchurch