This week, the Labour Party's opinion contribution comes from MP for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel. Currently in her fourth term representing the electorate in parliament, Lianne has a degree in law and is Labour's Spokesperson for Earthquake Recovery.
By Lianne Dalziel
It is just over three years since John Key appointed distinguished scientist Professor Sir Peter Gluckman to be the first Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. He said at the time, that the appointment delivered on the Government’s goal of including science at the heart of their decision-making. Others will reflect on how much influence Sir Peter has had on the government. I am concerned about one piece of advice he provided on the 10th May 2011, that seems to have been ignored.
It confirms that the government was warned about the impact of not engaging communities in decision-making after the earthquakes. The Minister has said that I have been “going on” about this for months and the reason I have is because I have been reading and listening to local and international experts on what is a well-researched process. Now I find that the government has already been given this advice and ignored it.
The briefing paper is called “The psychosocial consequences of the Canterbury Earthquakes”. It says that the potential exists for the emotional effects of disaster to cause as great a degree of suffering as do the physical effects such as injury, destruction of infrastructure and loss of income. It goes on to say:
"The earthquake was a disempowering event – an event that individuals had no control over and leaves them essentially with no control over how they live. The need to regain some sense of control over one’s life is central to the recovery process. Disempowerment essentially reinforces the initial trauma.”
Sir Peter warned the government that things like more aftershocks, delayed responses to the provision of key needs and a lack of local community participation in the recovery planning process would impede the recovery process. He warned of the similarity with other processes – bereavement and post traumatic stress syndrome. He identified the high-risk groups, like women (especially mothers of young children), children and teenagers, as well as adults with pre-existing vulnerabilities.
Sir Peter even provides a check-list for the government to follow:
· Recognising that the situation is distressing and not easy for the affected population;
·Being explicit about how the governance arrangements will facilitate local engagement and empowerment;
·Recognition by the community of the conflict that is inherent between the desire for rapid physical recovery and the difficulties the planners face. This conflict is inevitable and real – the key is to involve the community openly in resolving it;
·Providing information on expected post-disaster emotions;
·Providing community monitoring and good information on access to support services;
·Providing clarity over reconstruction and rehabilitation plans:
·It is better for those in decision-making roles to be truthful and say ‘we do not know’ rather than obfuscate;
·It is important to set timelines for when things will clarify and information will be provided, and to meet those timelines;
·Those involved in the managing the recovery process must understand that recovery in the end is about people’s lives, not just buildings, although clearly getting a functioning house, infrastructure and workplace are core to recovery. They must be credible in demonstrating that understanding and they must be willing to activate community empowerment and engagement;
·Recovery planning must be broad-based and on-going. For example, re-establishing community services such as sports clubs is important.
The good news is that if this is the path we follow, then the vast majority of people will make a good recovery and will develop resilience to future challenges as individuals and as communities. People need to understand that all their emotions, whatever they are, are natural responses to what we have experienced. And the government needs to understand that all of its processes have a direct impact on how people are coping and how well they will recover.
The lack of governance, community engagement and empowerment remain critical omissions in the Recovery Strategy that they have finally released today. They must learn to trust their Chief Scientist and trust the people.
Listen to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee defend the Recovery Strategy here.