By: Marie Claire Pascua
Disaster Risk Management Specialist, EMI
I had the opportunity to visit Christchurch in November 2016, just a few days after the Kaikoura Earthquake. At that time, Christchurch was still recovering from the severe impacts of the 2010/2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, which is estimated to cost approximately $40 billion or 20% of the country’s 2015 GDP. The city center was still relatively empty, with most of the buildings taken down after 2011, but there was a sense that the city is full of hope for the future. Although the Kaikoura Earthquake did not create as much of an impact as the Canterbury quakes, what I realized is that resilience is not only about reducing impacts of hazards, or recovering in a timely manner, or building back better, but also the ability to take on hazards one after another. In the following sections, I will provide some of my personal observations on this earthquake.
Tourists and immigrants as vulnerable groups
My visit to Christchurch last November was for a short holiday, two weeks before my student visa was to expire. It had crossed my mind to visit Wellington to say goodbye to some friends, take the famous inter-islander ferry to Picton in Marlborough, and pass by Kaikoura before making my way to Christchurch. I can only imagine if I actually went there a few days earlier. With roads to Kaikoura totally cut off, I would have been trapped and alone in a town I barely knew, with only my backpack and a student visa that was about to expire.
New Zealand is full of tourists and immigrants, both of which can be considered vulnerable groups. I’ve met some European backpackers at hostels who were staying in New Zealand for several months up to a year, and they had little knowledge about natural hazards in New Zealand. No one can blame them because they don’t have those hazards in their countries. And while their backpacks can serve as their “go bags”, it’s doubtful if they can fill them with emergency supplies enough for three days. I also met an Indian couple who recently immigrated to Christchurch, and had to stay at a hostel after the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake because the house they were renting had to be inspected for earthquake damage. They had no idea what liquefaction was, yet they live in a city that is generally prone to liquefaction.
I think it’s about time for New Zealand to consider tourists and immigrants as vulnerable groups (if they haven’t yet). This can also serve as a lesson for other countries who have a strong tourism industry and/or high immigration rates, and are subject to various hazards.
Businesses, post-disaster recovery, and the role of the government
New Zealand serves as a good example in recognizing the post-disaster needs of businesses. According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE, 2016), small businesses constitute 97% of enterprises in New Zealand, comprise 29% of their national employment, and contribute to around 26% of their GDP. However, small businesses are especially vulnerable as they do not have as much resources and have limited cash flow. Without businesses to provide goods and services to the community at such critical times, the community will not be able to recover. Due to the significant role of small businesses in their economy and their strong influence on the post-disaster recovery and resilience of local communities, it makes perfect sense that New Zealand places measures to protect its small businesses from the impacts of disasters.
Businesses thriving and flourishing in the face of disasters
According to McManus et al. (2008), resilient businesses are identified by their ability to turn challenges into opportunities. I realized that a good example would be the Christchurch Rebuild Tour (http://www.redbus.co.nz/rebuild-tour/), wherein a bus takes you around the Christchurch City Centre, and the tour guide talks about the progress of the Christchurch reconstruction. It costs 35NZD (25USD) for a 1.5-hour bus tour. Surely that’s a good way not only to make money, but also to raise awareness.
The tourism industry in Kaikoura and Marlborough sure took a hit, especially with the road closures and the suspension of the whale watch tours. However, I think that the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake can create some opportunities in the tourism industry. For example, the coastal uplift made very interesting natural formations.
The construction industry and post-disaster reconstruction
Currently, New Zealand is experiencing materials and skills shortages in the construction industry, particularly due to the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, as well as the unprecedented construction demand in Auckland. With the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake, construction organisations in New Zealand will experience even more pressure. However, with the formation of the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR), which is said to be modeled after the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) (http://strongerchristchurch.govt.nz), the usual tedious procurement process will be bypassed; instead of wasting their resources on bidding, construction organisations can focus their resources on actual construction work.