05 March 2011

Christchurch: Refugee City

Christchurch has a hierarchy of needs, but most are not acknowledged, let alone met, as the scale of the disaster overwhelms all normal local resources. Peaceful, conservative Christchurch has been overwhelmed and is now exhausted. Batteries are flat and nerves are frayed.

Students and volunteers shovel dried liquefaction from suburban streets, risking respiratory difficulties as the wind kicks the dried sewage & silt into dust. Water is captured in any useful container and hoarded as a precious commodity. transportation options are limited as roads are dodgy and many cars were abandoned, unusable or blocked by rubble.


Redcliffs resident Peter Hyde says many people in the worst-hit areas of Christchurch have had scant help in the struggle to get back on their feet

From The NZ Herald website, insight into the suburbs by Peter Hyde.


It's 2am and, like many people in Christchurch, I am not sleeping well. But at least we now have power in Redcliffs, so I can use the time productively.

What happened to me in the quake is not important. What is not happening in the post-quake period is important, because the official response is dwarfed by the size of the problem.

I don't have all-seeing eyes, or a helicopter. I certainly don't have any kind of special view of officialdom - though not for want of trying to make contact in the past five days.

So this is based on my perspective.

Christchurch is three cities right now, not one.

RESCUE CITY

This is the cordoned off area.

That means almost all our knowledge of it comes from the news media. It's given us tales of injury, tragedy, loss, broken buildings, heroism, sacrifice, leadership and gratifying international response.

It's extremely television-friendly. My quake experience started there, but almost nobody lives in Rescue City. The resources and attention which are seemingly being poured in are not addressing the most urgent post-quake needs of the people of Christchurch.

SHOWER CITY

This is any part of Christchurch where you can take a hot shower, because you have electricity, water and sewerage. By latest estimates, that's about 65 per cent of the city - much of it out west. The media naturally lives in Shower City, and they talk almost exclusively to the business leaders and the Rescue City leadership who also inhabit it.

REFUGEE CITY

This is the rest of Christchurch - mainly the eastern suburbs, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 people, only half of whom have power and almost none have running water. Batteries have run down, gas has run out and other supplies are low or gone.

Houses may or may not be intact. Streets may be clear, broken, or full of silt or sewage. There are no showers, ways to wash clothes or heat the "must boil" water. No refrigeration, no working toilets, and precious few Port-a-loos.

No internet and no phones. The papers - if you can get one - are rapidly dated, and usually far too general in their coverage. It really doesn't help someone without a car in Aranui to know that Fisher & Paykel is providing free laundries in Kaiapoi.

As a consequence, locals have few resources, little information, and no "voice". It's remarkably hard to call emergency services when your landline is out and your cellphone battery is dead. Maybe you have just enough charge to call the sole Government helpline - but to stay 20 minutes on hold?

We saw Opposition Leader Phil Goff the other day - he stopped for a photo op with the army group which had paused briefly at the cordon. He did not talk to any of the locals waiting amid the dust they'd stirred up, hoping for a nugget of information.

The official response in this part of the city sounds reassuring, but is not; relief centres and a field hospital - if you can get to them. The army - two drivebys in the past week. ...


Read the rest of the article on The NZ Herald's site.

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