On February 22nd Michael Wright presented in the Press the latest numbers relating to how Christchurch inches towards recovery. The figures refer to the number of damaged properties: of 84,500 properties with damage up to 100,000 NZ$, 32,000 have been repaired. Of the 18,500 properties with $100,000 plus needing to be repaired or rebuilt, 3,600 have been fixed or cash-settled and another 2,200 are in the pipeline. Four hundred new homes have been built by insurers. Another 650 due in the next six months. There are 7859 properties red-zoned. Most have been settled with the Crown but just 1427 have been demolished. Insurance Watch says IAG told customers in May that within six months they would be completing 85 rebuilds per month. But last month, four rebuilds were done. David Stringer of Insurance Watchdog said there has been some improvement, with IAG claiming that since the release of last month’s information, the overall number of rebuilds completed this year has risen from 49 to 102.
How about changing the number of damaged properties into the number of affected occupants. In doing so I came up with some staggering results. From the given statistics in that article, I calculated that as a result of the earthquakes a current total of 110,859 properties have been damaged to the extent that they either need repairing or rebuilding. Statistically it is probably an underestimate to say that on average there are 2 occupants to every property. This would account for 221,718 people directly affected by the damage to their property. That number would mean that originally about half of the population of Christchurch was directly affected by damage to their living conditions. However considering the size of Christchurch properties it is probably fair to say that each property on average would have 3 occupants. This raises the number of directly affected people to 332,577 people, which is about 73% of the population of the estimated original 450,000 inhabitants of the city.
When we apply these outcomes to the total number of repairs/rebuilds listed and subtract the number of repairs/rebuilds completed in the two and a half years after the first September 4th 2010 earthquake – we still have 52,500 repairs “under the cap” and 12,700 repairs “over the cap” to go. This adds up to a total of 65,200 damaged properties still waiting to be repaired or to be rebuilt. Again, if we take 2 occupants on average, we have 130,400 people waiting for their repairs/rebuild to begin. If we take 3 occupants on average the figure goes up to 195,600 affected people, or 43% of the city’s original population. Of course if the total population has shrunk, these numbers/percentages will go up. To avoid being accused of ‘milking’ the statistics I have left the 7,859 properties in the red-zoned areas out of the equation. If added it would raise the numbers and the percentages.
Looking ahead. If 32,000 (38%) of the 84,500 damaged properties “under the cap” have been repaired in a period of two and a half years, the remaining 52,500 damaged properties will probably take at least another 3 to possibly 4 years before all these properties are repaired (thinking optimistically). That is more than 6 years after the first event! For many that is a wait too long. Looking at the damaged properties over the cap, only 35% of the properties (5,800) have either been repaired, cash-settled or are “in the pipeline”. With two thirds still to go, my estimate is that it will take the private insurers 5 to 6 years (very conservatively) to have all these “over the cap” properties repaired/rebuilt/cash-settled. Why 5 to 6 years? Because, given the nature of the repairs/rebuilds “over the cap”, these properties will pose considerably more difficulties for the insurers. Think of the redesigning work, of the rising building costs, of the complicated consent procedures meeting the present building codes, etc. That is not 2015 as promised by the insurers some months ago, but some 8 years after the first event, 2018 or even 2019. For the insurer the only way to shorten the recovery period (for themselves and their insured) is to cash-settle. However this would leave property owners hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket. I presume many property owners would rather take the insurer to court. This route will also extend the recovery period.
Turning the numbers of effected properties into the numbers of affected people immediately shows how big the problem really is. It reveals why so many in the Christchurch area are still struggling. Why? We are inching towards recovery! Yes: ‘inching’ and this implies that for many there is still a long wait ahead; for the vulnerable, the desperate and the cash-poor probably a wait too long. Would somebody please prove me wrong.
Herman Meijburg, firstname.lastname@example.org