We only spent 12 hours in Christchurch – long enough to teach me something! It is approaching the fourth anniversary of the major earthquake here where I remember a solid week of media attention on the devastated city, the 185 people killed, the dissection of what causes earthquake, appeals for charitable responses and post earth quake stories about emergency services travelling from all over the world to help out.
This was not our hotel in Christchurch, which was mostly surrounded by flattened building sites, but an entire wrecked street about a block away.
We were certainly not aware of what was still happening four years later though. Frank, our driver from the airport, summed it up “It took 120 years to build this city and 30 seconds to flatten it. We’d like it fixed right now but realistically it won’t be right for 10 years” it’s not just economic costs either. Entire suburbs are still without sewerage and running water – those underground services take so long long to plan and rebuild and the 10,000 aftershocks the city suffered made it so dangerous to safely get started. Rebuilding costs? Forty billion dollars and rising. The populations dropped, entire industries have moved, and difficult decisions made on abandoning iconic landmarks – even the question “is this place, on a fault line, too dangerous for a city altogether? had to be considered
The lessons for the people of Christchurch continue daily but I hope what I learned today will remain with me. Our daily news cycle now includes a staple catastrophe story. Sometimes it’s a natural disaster like tsunami, bushfire or earthquake but often it’s human in origin like atrocities, terrorism and war. We recognise that emotionally we respond more to things that affect us, or people like us, or are close to us geographically, and this is reflected in the space the media allocates. This explains why a terrorist incident in Sydney consumes the news for a month and a mass slaughter in Africa hardly rates a mention.
However we are being trained by the media to have such short attention spans! Why don’t we demand to hear the end of the story as well as the beginning. It might not be as exciting to consider rebuilding as demolition but it’s just as important for us to know what happened next.