Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Voices From the Red Zones

For those unfamiliar with the situation here in Christchurch, a little background:

In the wake of the series of earthquakes that have devastated much of Christchurch and its environs, the Government has established an authority to manage the area's recovery. CERA, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, has divided the district into color-coded zones, according to the degree of damage they've suffered. Properties in the red zones are deemed to be beyond repair. They'll be acquired  by the Government for eventual 'remediation', and their owners compensated. While some have welcomed this as an end to their troubles, others are discovering that they've barely begun.

CERA is an organisation with potentially draconian powers, such as being able to acquire land without being subject to the usual processes of consent. Unfortunately it's so far been less than proactive in assisting those worst affected by the biggest natural disaster in New Zealand's history.

Despite being a Government agency, CERA shows little interest in ensuring that people are able to reestablish their disrupted lives in the face of land shortages and rising prices. While the Government insists that such things should be left to the market, it consults with insurers before releasing policy. 'Geotech' information - seismic engineers' reports on the status of affected land - is currently withheld from affected landowners, while the responsible Government Minister has publicly toyed with the possibility of making it available to their insurance companies.

When somewhere over two hundred aggrieved red zone residents and their supporters gathered in Kaiapoi last Sunday they were part of a groundswell of protest taking place across the region. There was a similar event in Avonside two weeks earlier, with another scheduled for Sunday September 9 in Bexley. Their reasons are as diverse as their situations - some dispute that their properties are beyond repair, others find that the total replacement that they'd insured for in good faith has vanished into a convenient loophole expedited by Government collusion with their insurers.

Red zoners must deal with a deliberately distant and disinterested Government agency, along with a City Council lacking the political will to take any meaningful initiative. Earthquake recovery Minister Brownlee has implied that the disaffected are greedy and naive. Rather than attend to the needs of those he's been appointed to serve he plays to what he seems to hope is the rest of the country's compassion fatigue. As Kaiapoi rally organiser Brent Cairns told last Sunday's crowd: "We are doing this for maybe the whole of New Zealand. Our concern is, earthquakes could happen in Wellington, they could happen in Auckland, and if this Government is going to treat us so badly, here in Kaiapoi, in Christchurch, in Canterbury, they're going to continue and do it again if someone has a natural disaster like we've had, so essentially that's why we need to stand for our rights."

There were some excellent speakers at Kaiapoi's meeting. First, a brief interview with Avonside red zoner Mike Coleman.

An excerpt from Mike Coleman's speech, in which he illuminates some of the darker recesses of the zoning jungle, and reveals why some are rated red while others will be forever spared.

Finally, the speech that truly resonated with the crowd. The distinguished Kaiapoi maritime artist Craig Smith, with five minutes straight from the heart.

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