The Role of Civil Society Post Disaster – two views

Once again I draw on the experience in Christchurch NZ, still recovering from earthquake five or so years ago, to start a discussion of the role of citizens and non-governmental organizations after a major disaster i.e., civil society.

From an Australian news source and writer, this article about the recovery in Christchurch, NZ: Comment: Christchurch five years on – have politicians helped or hindered the earthquake recovery?

Since I wanted the perspective of a native Kiwi, who in fact was involved in assessing the response to the CHCH earthquakes, I asked Ian McLean to comment.  He said:

It is unfortunately a partisan viewpoint. One factual error was to call the Ministerial powers ‘unprecedented’. The powers provided by special legislation after the Napier 1931 EQ were in some respects even wider.

There was considerable political debate over the appointment of commissioners to control Environment Canterbury. The issue was whether or not it had done its legal duty of developing a Regional Water Plan. The only linkage to the earthquake was that cooperation between some local authorities in civil defence emergency management before the 2010 event was poor – as you know.

On the other hand, the role of civic society in response and recovery is vastly underestimated, as the article points out.

At the same time it was far beyond the capacity of any local organisation to lead, plan and direct (where necessary) the response and recovery. Something like CERA was essential because neither central nor local government nor the community, had the organisation to do what is needed. The extent to which CERA adequately involved the local community remains an issue worthy of examination and debate.


1 thought on “The Role of Civil Society Post Disaster – two views

  1. While I [grudgingly] might agree that no local organization can lead, plan and direct response AND recovery from a major natural disaster, the local community – acting as one – must and can take charge of its own recovery. After Katrina, NOLA to some extent defaulted to FEMA and recovery was delayed and started to go in directions opposed to those residents of many areas wanted. It was only when Mayor Landrieu came in and took the reins that recovery really started to happen.

    Conversely, after the devastating 2011 tornadoes in Alabama, many if not most of the communities affected took responsibility for their own recoveries and did quite well. Tuscaloosa is a fine example. I would also point out that the State of Florida directed counties to develop long-term recovery plans. The few of these that I’ve seen (in particular, Lee Country’s) are excellent documents that would serve well in the aftermath of a disaster.

    To me, the important thing is to have a plan before disaster strikes. One of the key takeaways for us in CARRI from our work in Charleston, SC, was from then-Mayor Joe Riley – you have to plan for recovery every bit as hard and in as much detail as you plan for response. It’s your city – what do you want it to become after the disaster?

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