By Denis McClean
GENEVA, March 4, 2015: Five years after it was devastated by two major earthquakes, Christchurch, New Zealand, is continuing its transformation into one of the world’s most resilient cities with much to share with other urban centers on how to reduce disaster risk in an earthquake zone.
“On Valentine’s Day, the city was impacted by a 5.7 earthquake which was quite close but it did not destroy any new buildings. It was a good test for our re-build which has been very successful,” said Ms. Nicky Wagner MP for Christchurch Central and Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery. She met today with the head of UNISDR, Mr. Robert Glasser, and briefed him on the city’s progress in building back better.
The 6.3 earthquake which struck Christchurch and the Canterbury Region on February 22, 2011, killed 185 people and caused widespread damage and population displacement. The city had already been weakened by a 7.1 earthquake on September 4, 2010.
Ms. Wagner who also holds portfolios for disability issues, conservation and customs, said that the city is being transformed into a living urban centre with a vibrant cultural life and an entrepreneurial spirit despite some 15,000 tremors experienced since the major 2011 earthquake.
"Getting people back uinto their homes, reopening schools and services, and getting businesses back up and running was the first priority. This stood the people of Christchurch in good stead however there is still more to be done," said the Minister.
Over the last five years, 1,200 major buildings have been demolished and 68,000 homes have been repaired. She noted that the pace of the work was helped by the fact that 98% of people were insured.
The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) has completed 86% of horizontal infrastructure repairs including roads, storm water drains, drinking water and sewerage pipes.
She said one of the most important lessons learned has been how to manage the risk to infrastructure. Among the innovations in the rebuild has been the introduction of sensors on buildings which allow real-time monitoring of their capacity to withstand earthquakes.
Ms. Wagner referenced a recent Wellbeing Survey which showed that more than 75% of Greater Christchurch Residents report a positive quality of life and many people are now positive about the future.
This also applies to people living with disability who have set up their own organization and have done a great deal to raise the profile of accessibility issues during the rebuild and to ensure that promises are delivered on.
As a highly visible sign of the return to normality, Ms. Wagner cited with pride the fact that the city now has “the largest children’s playground in the southern hemisphere and 100,000 people have used it since it was opened last Christmas.”
A key area of interest to UNISDR and partners is the extensive archive under development on rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction in the city.
Mr. Glasser said: “There is no doubt that other countries can learn a lot from Christchurch’s recovery and we look forward to working with New Zealand to ensure that lessons learned are applied appropriately during implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which identifies building back better after disasters as a key priority for action in reducing future disaster losses.”
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted on March 18 last year at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, as a global blueprint for reducing disaster losses and disaster risk over the next 15 years.