Prevention is better than cure

Prevention is better than cure

February 21, 2016

Leading up to the fifth anniversary of the Canterbury February 2011 earthquakes, more earthquakes and media coverage have jolted Canterbury and its recovery back into the headlines.

For some, things have been sorted and life goes on. For others, five years later, things have become considerably worse.

Recent news headlines have highlighted the ongoing plight of people stuck in the insurance process that is in part hostage to issues wider than the insurance business.

The Quake Outcasts group of uninsured residents are being forced back to the High Court in relation to the Government's most recent land offer.

There are also good news stories and those who have been to Christchurch over the past five years can now see much progress and many people getting on with their lives.

It was great to see the Waimakariri District Council proposing plans that would see services and roads for people in their 'red zones' maintained. That is what respect for property rights and human rights needs.

Here's the thing – while many are taking stock, transitioning to new structures and ways of operating (for instance, Cera's functions moving into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Land Information New Zealand), conducting 'lessons learned' seminars and ensuring the momentum of the rebuild doesn't slacken off, there is one thing those responsible for resolving outstanding issues in Canterbury can do: prevent any further harm.

That is going to require doing some things differently because what has been tried so far has not worked.

The Human Rights Commission conducted a survey of those still living in the so called 'red zone' last year, the findings of which we are currently analysing and will release in the next few weeks.

What we can say at this stage is that for many who stayed in their unlawfully "red zoned" homes, the post-earthquake recovery process has been more stressful than the earthquakes themselves.

The non "red zoners" who are stuck in the insurance claim process have complex issues, inevitably not of their own making. What it means simply, is that they can't move on.

The Government has repeatedly acknowledged that stressors that are secondary to the earthquake – like housing, financial and insurance concerns – are causing psychosocial harm. 

In regard to stress caused by housing, insurance and financial issues, those stuck in any insurance process in most cases do have complex situations, some of which require action beyond the realm of the insurance business. 

We know from work we have done that in many cases vulnerable people have been identified but this does not mean their issues have been resolved. 

Based on reporting from three insurers, 19 per cent of vulnerable customers had their claims open for less than a year, while 56 per cent had been open for three years.

So, when we call on businesses, including insurers, and the Government to do no more harm, especially to the most vulnerable, we do so knowing that this is possible.

If there's anything good that has come out of the earthquakes for those worst affected, it is that we know.

We know that when the right advice, expertise and will get alongside those who are stuck in the process, things can be resolved. 

We have seen insurers and community organisations work together and solve issues for vulnerable people.

We know from other countries whose people have recovered from disasters that adequate mental health services are integral to recovery.

We know that joining up support services and insurers for vulnerable customers delivers better outcomes. 

From the 'lessons learned' there are multiple examples of what has worked well.

It is time to apply those lessons – not only to some future disaster or to those caught in a disaster overseas – but to the ongoing personal disaster of the vulnerable and stuck in Christchurch.

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Learn about our work in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery here.

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In a new op-ed Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, states that for many who stayed in their unlawfully "...

Posted by New Zealand Human Rights Commission on Saturday, 20 February 2016

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford

David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.

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