New Zealand Permanent Mission Geneva, Switzerland
The Foundation of Resilient Nations - Hon Nikke Kaye
Hon Nikki Kaye, Minister of Civil Defence
Speech to the Plenary session Community Resilience: The Foundation of Resilient Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. 22 May 2013
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, katoa.
Good morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I have been invited to speak to you today about three themes:
• How New Zealand is ensuring that community-based approaches to risk reduction are institutionalised, or given a formal or official structure;
• What my commitments are to community resilience; and
• How the role of the community in Canterbury can be turned into a best-practice approach.
Before that, I first want to give an overview of the scale of the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and the impact on the community.
I want to acknowledge that New Zealand is in the unique position of having a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, the Honourable Gerry Brownlee, who is working hard to rebuild Canterbury.
The Canterbury earthquake event was one of New Zealand’s worst disasters, with 185 lives lost and thousands of injuries.
Most of the Christchurch city central business district was destroyed, either immediately, or due to later demolitions.
It has changed the landscape of Christchurch forever. Regenerating the city will take years.
It has also caused an estimated $40 billion worth of damage – more than 20 per cent of our annual GDP - with some economists suggesting the effects may take 50 to 100 years to filter through the economy.
That’s why we have had to move quickly to reduce the mental strain on affected people and communities.
We have consulted and discussed, we have worked with our community, but ultimately we have taken action.
Decisions are sometimes hard to make, but unless they are taken, there can be no certainty and progress.
Overview of New Zealand’s emergency management system
Understandably, the New Zealand Government wants to ensure we use what we have learned from the Canterbury earthquakes to strengthen our civil defence emergency management framework.
The New Zealand framework requires local government to be responsible for planning and providing civil defence emergency management in their own areas.
They are supported by regional groupings and the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management.
A number of reviews of the response to the Canterbury earthquakes have shown that our current framework and underlying principles are sound, and appropriate for the New Zealand context.
As a small nation, we need everyone in our communities to participate. We acknowledge that local people are often better placed to know and manage their own hazards.
I have also asked our Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management to ensure lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes are being built into the forward planning of regional and local Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups.
The role of the community in Canterbury
I would like to cover lessons learned about the role of the community, shared by some key people who served and worked directly with the public in the days and months that followed the Canterbury earthquakes.
The earthquake on 22 February 2011 stands out in the minds of all New Zealanders as the most devastating, in terms of injuries, loss of life and damage – both social and economic.
In the immediate aftermath, individuals and communities pulled together and stepped up in a remarkable way.
The success of the emergency response was due to the resilience of communities in Christchurch.
Most rescues were made by people close by. And help for those in need was mostly provided by neighbours, existing community groups such as churches, or by voluntary organisations.
This fact underlines the importance of emergency management being community-centred.
When disaster strikes, it will be ordinary members of the public, not emergency services, who will be first to respond.
A few months after the February 2011 earthquake, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management partnered with two universities and a research group to explore the elements of community resilience.
The aim was to learn what elements made Canterbury communities resilient, so that we can generate or strengthen resilience before an emergency, and integrate community action into policy and practice.
Self-activation, self-sufficiency, self-responsibility and self-management were identified as key traits that contributed to individual and community resilience in the days following the earthquakes.
Essentially, individuals, organisations and communities have to own and be responsible for their own preparedness.
Although each community’s experience was different, there was a common pattern of community response.
Individuals looked out for their immediate family and neighbours first. Later, local self-help groups formed that often evolved into community-led action groups.
It was interesting to learn that the leaders who surfaced in these spontaneous groups all shared common traits of a ‘can-do’ attitude; strong local knowledge and connections; a readiness to listen to what the community needed; and a strong sense of commitment to helping others.
These leaders mentioned some common elements behind the success of their initiatives:
- The value of partnerships – establishing, building and maintaining them. I note, in relation to partnerships between community and government, that success depends on good two-way contact and engagement;
- Strong practical leadership. Some commented that a grassroots, self-coordinated disaster response aligned well with the instinctive nature of New Zealanders to ‘get the job done’;
- Maintaining a good understanding of each other’s responsibilities;
- Good communication and feedback supported by robust information networks, This is especially important to volunteers;
- Using multiple channels to provide that feedback. The coordinator of a student-organised group noted that using social media and smart phone technology was key to their success;
- Trusting and respecting local initiatives and ‘organic’ responses. To quote one participant “No one knows a community better than the people that work and play within it”;
- Being flexible – recognising the effectiveness of harmonising a range of community responses; and
- The value of investing in your people by allowing your volunteer groups to flourish.
Developing a best practice approach
Needless to say, the experience of Canterbury has been a driver for change everywhere else in New Zealand.
Every region, city, town and rural area is building on the Canterbury experiences to strengthen their community preparedness and resilience.
You may be interested to know that our capital city, Wellington, has been chosen as one of 10 cities globally to participate in the United Nations Habitat ‘City Resilience Profiling Programme’.
The programme develops tools that will assist local government to measure and increase their resilience to natural hazards.
Wellington is a city that straddles two major earthquake fault lines. It is also exposed to a wide range of other hazards, including flooding, landslides and storm surges. The Wellington Region Emergency Management Office has been actively working to support community-driven preparedness initiatives across the region.
They’ve also managed to build the largest following on Facebook and Twitter for an emergency management office in the southern hemisphere.
I’d like to mention two examples of their work.
Their Tsunami Blue Lines programme has won two international awards for public awareness. This involves painting lines on roads and footpaths, so people know what level to evacuate to in the event of a tsunami alert.
The success behind the programme is not only its impact, but its community-driven approach. There is growing interest around the world in using this model.
Meanwhile, Wellington’s Community Resilience Strategy is receiving significant interest from the emergency management sector as a potential model for cities to follow. It is being promoted internationally.
The Strategy notes there is no single solution for enhanced resiliency, and a multi-faceted approach is needed.
Initiatives that build linkages and connectedness between people help to increase social capital – a vital ingredient of a resilient community.
This work in Wellington provides a great example of how one region in New Zealand has made a serious attempt to knit community-based approaches into policy and practice.
In conclusion, I think in years to come we will look back at the Canterbury events and realise they were a milestone for change.
They have reminded us that communities are at the heart of emergency management, and that building communities’ resilience to risks has to be all-encompassing.
New Zealand is committed to sharing these lessons with our international partners, and supporting them to build the resilience of their own communities.
I am looking forward to hearing the experiences and perspectives of others here today.
I see this forum as a truly valuable learning opportunity, as we all increase our understanding of what makes communities and nations resilient in the face of today’s challenges.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak.