Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Anger in Chrstchurch

Doing the rounds today: a firsthand report from Christchurch about the differential response to the earthquake in various parts of the city:

There are THREE cities in Christchurch right now, not one.

RESCUE CITY is inside the four main avenues, and it is cordoned off. That means almost all our knowledge of it comes from media, and man is it a honey-pot for them!

It's given us understandably-incessant tales and images of injury, tragedy, loss, broken iconic buildings, heroism, sacrifice, leadership and gratifying international response. It's extremely television-friendly.

My quake experience started there, but actually almost nobody lives in Rescue City. The resources and attention which are seemingly being poured into it right now are NOT addressing the most urgent post-quake needs of the population of Christchurch.

SHOWER CITY is any part of Christchurch where you can take a hot shower, because you have electricity and running water and mostly-working sewer lines. By latest estimates, that's about 65% of the city -- much of it out west.

In that part of Christchurch, weary and stressed people are getting on with life -- though some may be wondering if they still have a job. And a few of them with energy and time to spare are wondering if they can do more to help the rest of the city.

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 is the rest of Christchurch -- mainly the eastern suburbs, though there are pockets elsewhere. It includes perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 people, though a more-mobile chunk of them may have self-evacuated by now.

Only half of those who remain in Refugee City have power, and almost NONE have running water. Many have been living on their own resources, and their neighbours', for over a week now.

That means that batteries have run down, gas (if they had any to start with) has run out, other supplies are low or gone. Roads are often very bad - and a lot of those from the poorer suburbs have no transport anyway.

Their houses may or may not be intact. Their streets may be clear, broken, or full of silt. Or sewage. There are no showers. Or ways to wash clothes. Or to wash dishes. Or to heat the "must boil" water that is available -- assuming they can make it to the nearest water truck, day after day. No refrigeration. No working toilets, and precious few portaloos. No face masks to defend against the blown silt.

They have no internet either, and usually no phones. And their radio batteries are dead or dying. 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 and Paykel are providing free laundries in Kaiapoi!

All the above means the locals have few resources, little information, and no "voice" either. It's remarkably hard to call talkback radio - or your local politician -- or emergency services -- when your landline is out and your cellphone battery is dead. Or when it maybe has JUST enough charge to stay on hold for 5 minutes - but not 20! - when calling the sole government helpline.



And its an unpleasant coincidence that the hardest hit areas, those receiving the least help, are also the poorest.

The media are beginning to wake up to this. Last night, Three News talked to people in Aranui, Christchurch's poorest suburb, about their problems: no water, no sewage, and nightly gangs of looters. Sideshow Bob's response when confronted about the lack of something as basic as portaloos was to hide behind the dead:

“Well I think it’s an outstanding response to a very difficult situation, and you know is it good enough that we had a 6.3 earthquake that's taken potentially hundreds of lives,” says Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.
But while the earthquake was something that couldn't be controlled, the response is. And it is not good enough that that response seems to be ignoring those most in need.

Like Lew, I think the media has a responsibility to tell this story, to investigate the response, and to make sure that the government does its job to ensure that those in need get help, regardless of wealth or class.