Opinion: It takes a while to decide what to write about each fortnight. This time it was a conversation, a column and a couple of news items that brought me to today’s column.
The conversation was a discussion about whether we could create a checklist of things to do to support recovery after a disaster. Recovery is different from response, but it also starts straight away and runs parallel to the response. It needs to be deeply connected to the community affected by the disaster. It is their recovery after all.
Over a cup of coffee, we soon had several items that would make a difference to recovery.
How could we ensure the powers-that-be know about these things right from the outset, so they don’t feel they have to make it up as they go along? We have emergency fly-in teams, what about recovery?
I often tell the story about the way the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority ended up with the ruling party’s blue as its corporate colour instead of the red and black that would have spoken directly to the Canterbury spirit. It didn’t feel like our recovery
I said that when I have been asked about what I have learned from my experience of the earthquakes, my usual reply was not to have a disaster in an election year.
It’s a flippant reply I know, but I say it because of the law of unintended consequences. An earthquake less than five weeks before the 2010 local body election changed the result of the mayoral race in Christchurch, and the February 22 2011 earthquake enabled the government to control the narrative all the way through to the election and beyond, even to the extent of lessons learned.
I often tell the story about the way the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority ended up with the ruling party’s blue as its corporate colour instead of the red and black that would have spoken directly to the Canterbury spirit. It didn’t feel like our recovery.
This is not a party-political observation. The same can also be said of the global pandemic. Although the colour scheme was neutral in this case, the domination of the media announcements by senior politicians in an election year left me with a sense of disquiet.
In addition, both parties have held the pen on terms of reference, which if written more independently, may have produced more meaningful results. As I have said before, I worry there remains an unwillingness to admit mistakes even though we inevitably learn more from failure than success.
These are not the only reasons I recommend not having a disaster in an election year.
Recovering from a disaster is always an opportunity to build and strengthen capacity within existing and emergent organisations so that they are better prepared for whatever challenges may come their way in the future. I call this building resilience, and although many people don’t seem to like the word, I can’t think of a better legacy than to enable a city, a district or a region to be in a better position than when the crisis struck.
Recovery after a disaster requires collaboration. This is not something we see in an election campaign. In fact, we see the opposite.
The column I said I had read that triggered these thoughts was by Rob Campbell, who started by saying that there was a time when political parties released detailed policy manifestos for elections. Now it’s a lolly scramble.
And that’s exactly what it feels like.
One of the news items I heard was a call from a youth community worker for a cross-party strategy to support youth mental health. And the other one was why money collected for the cyclone-damaged communities wasn’t being distributed.
In relation to the youth mental health issue was that bipartisanship was hard to achieve four weeks out from an election.
I don’t disagree with that – that’s the reality. But it’s these big picture issues, not the lollies, that need collaboration. I have written about radical collaboration before, and I will keep repeating it.
The biggest challenges we face require parties to work together so we don’t see an upturning of policy every time there is a change of government. Couldn’t we at least agree what these are?
Surely the inter-generational issues fall into this category. How are we going to cope with the cost of these extreme climate events that are becoming more frequent and severe?
And what about reinventing the wheel? We have enormous experience in Ōtautahi and we are willing to help in any way we can.
That’s why I was so frustrated to hear about the millions of dollars seemingly stuck behind Department of Internal Affairs requirements for distribution.
We established a place-based community foundation – the Christchurch Foundation – in the wake of the cost-sharing agreement between the council and the government after the earthquakes. They can help.
We are too small as a nation not to share these lessons with each other and, more importantly, to learn from them.