Christchurch on the road to resilience

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Margareta Wahlström surveys an area in danger of falling rocks along a cliff edge. Liquefaction, subsidence and lateral spreading was common following earthquakes that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo / Jerry Velasquez)
Margareta Wahlström surveys an area in danger of falling rocks along a cliff edge. Liquefaction, subsidence and lateral spreading was common following earthquakes that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo / Jerry Velasquez)

GENEVA, 6 June 2012 - The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, has just visited the site of a major reconstruction programme which is about to start in the earthquake-devastated centre of Christchurch, New Zealand.

"Over 300 million people live in urban seismic zones around the world which are just as high-risk as Christchurch but without the advantage of New Zealand's very high rate of insurance coverage of about 90% which includes earthquake insurance and, uniquely, also covers land damage," she said.

Ms. Wahlström added: "The recovery programme now underway in Christchurch has some innovative aspects in particular the decision to reduce exposure to future earthquake damage by re-locating people from the 'Red Zone' and offering attractive incentives in terms of house and land purchase.

"The disaster has brought to the fore new social vulnerabilities. Loneliness, isolation and the poverty of some has become more evident. The New Zealand Red Cross and other groups are reaching out and providing meaningful support.

"Everyone agrees the disaster response was good. This is now a difficult period when there is a slight lull after the major relief efforts as the reconstruction phase is now focused on recovery and reconstruction planning."

The CEO of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), Roger Sutton says it's going to take three to five years to demolish the ruins and to create new public areas in the center and to provide most people with new places to live. A resilient city, with a strengthened economy is what he and his dedicated team of 300 or so specialists and planners are aiming to rebuild.

CERA is tapping into a vision for the new city suggested by citizens earlier this year when Mayor Ben Parker and City Council of Christchurch invited people to express their views. This consultation is now being used to provide the parameters of a detailed reconstruction plan.

UNISDR chief, Ms. Wahlström said: "There is no doubt that Christchurch will emerge as an even more interesting and attractive city for its population and the many tourists who visit every year. New Zealand is well prepared and equipped to address the reconstruction challenges. Christchurch has the potential to become a resilient city that will live up to the expectations of its inhabitants."

The 2011 earthquake killed 184 people and destroyed the commercial centre while also causing widespread damage across Christchurch, especially in the central city and eastern suburbs, with damage exacerbated by buildings and infrastructure already weakened by the 4 September 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks.

In October 2011, the government divided the rebuilding zone into different categories offering a range of options for the repair and rebuilding of houses. As of today, around 80 percent of the owners with a house in the Red Zone, the worst affected area, have taken one of the options offered by the government usually involving purchase of the land and building and a takeover of the insurance claim.

"The next six months will see increasing progress on repairs and rebuilds in the residential green zone," says Roger Sutton. "Great progress is being made on these repairs with about 15,000 completed so far, and more than twice that number currently under way."

Together with the extensive technical and design planning that is underway to ensure that Christchurch will be a more resilient and safe city of the future, CERA has also allocated resources to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable people are given full attention through its Winter Wellness programme.

New Zealand is highly prone to earthquakes and the Canterbury region has already been rocked by more than 10,000 aftershocks since the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck on September 4, 2010. Christchurch has also suffered a succession of severe earthquakes including: a 7.1 magnitude quake in September 2010; magnitude 6.3 in February 2011; magnitude 6.3 in June 2011; and finally a magnitude 6.0 quake in December 2011.

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