New Zealand is still under-prepared for the next big earthquake or major disaster. That is a central finding of a research report, "Recipe for disaster: Building policy on shaky ground", launched by The New Zealand Initiative, a think tank.
Post-earthquake disaster recovery in Christchurch, hit by quakes in 2010-2011, was substantially hindered by avoidable policy mistakes that have still not been adequately addressed.
The report’s authors, Dr Bryce Wilkinson and Dr Eric Crampton with Jason Krupp, argue that government should plan for future disasters by:
- establishing an off-the-shelf framework for a recovery agency;
- including disaster contingencies in Council long-term plans;
- progressing the changes to Earthquake Commission (EQC) coverage and processes proposed under the last government and trialled in Kaikoura.
“Such changes would help reduce the problems Christchurch experienced,” said Dr Wilkinson, “otherwise recovery from the next disaster will be unnecessarily difficult and costly.”
"The government was right to implement a recovery agency like CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority), but its governance arrangements were rushed and became increasingly problematic as the scope of its activities increased,” said Dr Wilkinson. “Building off-the-shelf arrangements now, that a future recovery agency could quickly deploy, would allow for more deliberative decisions.”
Report co-author Dr Crampton said: “The overarching lesson of the Christchurch earthquakes is that policy and regulatory uncertainty is terrible for recovery. Homeowners and business owners need to know quickly what the rules are for rebuilding their homes, lives and businesses.”
In any future disaster, the government should quickly establish certainty about policies, plans, and regulation. Anchor projects and precinct designations should be avoided unless they were planned for in Council’s long-term disaster contingencies, the report says.
The initial blueprint recovery plan was too broad brush to give the business community the certainty it needed about future infrastructure provision and freedom of action. It was also too ‘blue sky’ and too divorced from funding realities to be affordable. Yet the subsequent central government imposed plan aggravated some uncertainties and lacked community ‘buy-in’.
Many home owners had dreadful insurance experiences, from which much has been learnt. One test will be how well the promising revised insurance arrangements for responding to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake work in practice, says the think tank.