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Earthquake preparedness in an ageing society - Learning from the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes

Authors: Judith Davey, Jenny Neale, Victoria University of Wellington

Paper number: 2341 (EQC 12/638)


The ageing of the New Zealand population means that, in future, very large numbers of very old people will be living in the community, many alone or with a spouse of similar age, many suffering from chronic illness or disability and in need of support. This scenario must be central to future planning for disaster relief and recovery.

Initial support for older people in Canterbury came mainly from friends, neighbours and family. Community level organisations worked well together, providing valuable services, such as door knocking, giving information and raising morale. This suggests greater use of the community development approach. The strengths of older people in volunteer and community action are well illustrated in the Canterbury situation. Stereotyping older people as vulnerable leads to under-valuing their potential contribution in the immediate aftermath and the recovery period. The challenge is to develop capacity for self-help and at the same time to strengthen interaction between the community level and local and national government, which is able to mobilise large-scale resources.

Older people share the general challenges around housing, including the effects of displacement; coping with damage and loss; delays in in decision-making; and shortage of rental options.  These are compounded for older people, who may feel feel that time is not on their side.  Older people may need help in negotiating the processes of repairing, rebuilding, selling and buying. Special issues have arisen for those living in residential care and retirement villages. 

The EQC and other organisations concerned with disaster recovery need to consider age-appropriate forms of preparedness and public education, immediate responses, short and long-term housing, health,  support and care services and measures to ensure social connectedness and psychological wellbeing. 


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