Every year, tens of millions of people abandon their homes because of natural disasters. I am currently hearing stories in Christchurch that this is beginning to happen here as well. Unfortunately this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. CERA and associated bodies do not seem to realize/care that Christchurch residents are only prepared to put up with so much. Solutions to the insurance stale-mate and flood risks need to be found sooner rather than later otherwise the demographics in the City may suffer permanently.
A few days ago we were talking with someone who had pledged (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-earthquake/4798211/Earthquake-survivors-pledge-to-stay-in-Christchurch) to stay in Christchurch after the earthquakes. But now, three years on she stated that she could no longer take it and was heading elsewhere to find a better life, totally disillusioned, wanting to escape the deadlock and the inertia, watching her City and neighbourhood slowly disintegrate. Her view was not that “things are improving“. There are many Cantabrians currently coming to the same conclusion. Amongst my own group of friends, plans of new futures elsewhere are being seriously contemplated and actioned.
It has been reported that since the Christchurch earthquakes there has been a steady departure of Canterbury residents. Of course this may need to be balanced with the numbers of people who have arrived to assist with the ‘rebuild’. Accurate figures are hard to ascertain and your guess is as good as mine. One thing for sure is that honest answers to quantifiable questions are hard to come by in this city. The current numbers however, do not predict the reality of what is likely to take place in the future. It will not be until the insurers actually do start settling large numbers of residential claims that the true figures might be counted or estimated. My guess is that many more Canterbury residents are yet to leave.
Immediately after the February 22, 2011 earthquake Air New Zealand provided reduced domestic airfares in and out of Christchurch for the rock bottom prices of NZD 50.00 and the population responded. “An estimated 65,000 people, or approximately 17 per cent, of Christchurch‘s population left the city following the February earthquake.“ Since that time, it is said that in the year to June 2011, 10,600 more people left Christchurch than arrived. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/7783450/10-600-people-leave-Christchurch). Figures since that time are remarkably less easy to come by. School statistics would no doubt be indicative of some of the movement. (See http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences/Psychology/Disasters/pubs/GNS/2012/Misc_Series_44.pdf?F5FBEC515307E9EEADB16B334655DAF9 ). There has been a massive drop too, in the student numbers and staff numbers at Canterbury University. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8380796/Cost-cuts-likely-for-UC-arts-college ).
When the figures are broken down into age bands, the population of Christchurch City, like many cities around the western world, has been ageing, with a marked increase in those aged 40-64 years. From 2011 the increase in the number of people aged over 64 is expected to accelerate markedly. This is in-part due to a lack of job opportunities for younger people and in part due to the general, national, ageing demographic. Some occupations are more severely impacted by earthquake events than others – the self-employed particularly are prone to suffer when their means of production is lost as they may not have the requisite capital to resume work in a timely fashion and therefore are forced to seek alternative employment elsewhere. Migrant workers engaged in low skilled, service jobs may similarly suffer, as disposable income fades and the need for services decline.
Professional or managerial groups also suffer while the clerical and labour disciplines tend to benefit. For instance, in April 2013 it was reported that figures released by the website ‘Trade Me’ confirmed the explosive growth in the Canterbury job market, with advertised roles up 81 per cent compared with two years ago. Listings for construction and architecture roles were up 65 per cent on a year ago, while listings for trades and services roles were up 47 per cent. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/6745638/Rebuild-boom-goes-beyond-construction). Meanwhile we see recent reports in the Christchurch Press of unprecedented numbers of building firms ‘going bankrupt’ despite the supposed post quake construction boom in the City. Last week, as part of the three-and-a-half-year-saga of my insurance claim, geotech drilling was carried out at my property. The crew involved told me that it had been weeks since they had actually had a forty-hour working week. Business is apparently very slow. In addition there appears to be a lack of tenants to fill new office buildings and developers and investors have begun to take their monies elsewhere in the face of high construction costs, reluctant tenants and uncertainty over car parking. Property investors describe the central business district as closed for business. (See “No tenants left for the CBD”, Georgina Stylianou, Christchurch Press, Jan 30, 2014). Meanwhile we are being constantly told the rebuild is ramping up and yet many local tradespeople would disagree that there has been any opportunity, suggesting that most work has been given to people and organizations originating from other parts of the country. Fletchers is said to be partly to blame. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/business/the-rebuild/10004111/Building-firms-go-bust-despite-rebuild).
Additionally, Christchurch’s tertiary sector is said to have experienced a 37 per cent drop in international-student numbers. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/6652427/Major-blow-to-Christchurchs-tertiary-sector) and there is a $67 million dollar deficit hanging over the University. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8360311/Canterbury-University-posts-67m-deficit). http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8548775/Christchurch-youth-warn-Shearer-they-may-leave.)
The Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment state that “There is evidence of people moving outside of the region, with the Canterbury working age population (people aged 15 years and over) having decreased by 13,500 people, or 2.7%, in the year to September 2011. The number of people in the prime working age group (25—54 years) declined by 17,700, or 6.8%.
- In the year to September 2011, total employment in Canterbury decreased by 8.0% or 26,800 workers. Regional unemployment grew by 900 people (or 5.3%) the over the same period, with the unemployment rate increasing from 4.8% to 5.5%.
- Since the 22 February 2011 earthquake, the number of unemployment beneficiaries rose from 5,500 on 18 February 2011 to a peak of 6,300 in late April 2011. The number of unemployment beneficiaries has been in decline since early July 2011. Young people aged 18—24 years accounted for a disproportionately high share of new unemployment benefit registrations” (See http://www.dol.govt.nz/publications/research/employment-opportunities-canterbury/04.asp).
The National Bank index of regional activity states “Building activity in Christchurch, where the rebuild is gathering pace, rose a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent in the quarter, following a 20 percent surge in the September quarter. Residential work climbed 6 percent in the quarter, while non-residential dropped 6.6 percent.
The figures follow new building consents data last week, which showed a decline in permits to build new housing in January, as apartment and retirement unit numbers dwindled from records in the tail-end of 2013.” (See http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/building-work-slows-december-quarter-commercial-activity-drops-39-bd-152803).
The ANZ Bank’s regional trends survey shows Canterbury’s economic activity was 7.5 per cent higher in 2012 from the 2011 year. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/business/the-rebuild/8324261/Canterbury-rebuild-sparks-growth and http://www.anz.co.nz/resources/7/8/78042a41-2126-4f59-9723-e2728eca4130/RegionalTrends-20142502.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=78042a41-2126-4f59-9723-e2728eca4130).
However in terms of departure figures, the feeling among many locals is that these figures underplay the real departure figures. There is further evidence of this as the number of New Zealanders moving to Australia is said to have hit a new high. Nearly 52,000 people taking the one-way trip on a permanent or long-term basis in the year to January 2012. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/6798320/Record-numbers-move-to-Australia.
People leave for a variety of reasons:
- Unemployment, leading to an inability to support families, pay mortgages for uninhabitable homes, and rental cover.
- Some are traumatized by living in an environment where there have been some 11,000 earthquakes. There are some who have been paralysed by fear. Leaving presents an opportunity to try to forget, to find a place that is thought to offer more solid ground.
- Some see little future in the City in the short to medium term. The central city has been so devastated that it will be many years before there is any sense of a heart to the city.
- Some are affected by the dealings they have had with insurers and related professionals. Tired of the dishonesty and disillusionment that permeates throughout the City, they have taken what they could get and left.
- The on-going rates increases in years to come creating a downward spiral of the rating base.
In May 2011 John Key was telling us that “Actually there’s about 1000 people that had left”. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/rebuilding-christchurch/5038288/Key-Boom-ahead-for-Christchurch). In June 2012 the Christchurch Press reported that nearly 55,000 people may leave earthquake-affected Christchurch over the next five years. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/our-rebuild-your-views/7026937/Survey-picks-quake-exodus).
So who can say what the real numbers look like today? Perhaps the census information will reveal some of the extent of the exodus? One thing is for sure – if CERA and the Government don’t put more pressure on the insurance industry to deal fairly and quickly with the domestic sector, Canterbury is going to suffer an unprecedented loss of population. Perhaps that’s the plan!? No other country in the world would actually enable the private insurance industry’s behaviour to go so unchecked for so long. Doesn’t it strike you by now that there must be some reason for this deliberate distribution of misery to the population??
 (See Preliminary Observations of the impacts of the 22 February Christchurch Earthquake had on organizations and the economy: a Report from the files (22 Feb – 22 March 2011), Joanne R. Stevenson, Hlekiwe Kachali, Zachary Whitman, Erica Seville, John Vargo and Thomas Wilson).
Population Movement after natural Disasters, Sapere Research Group http://www.srgexpert.com/Population%20movement%20after%20natural%20disasters%20-%20%20a%20literature%20review%20and%20assessment%20of%20Christchurch%20data.pdf.
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