Landing : Athabascau University

Unit 4: The Christchurch Earthquakes

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By Sydney Carroll November 6, 2023 - 7:13pm

Over the last 3 months I have called the South Island of New Zealand home, more specifically the city of Christchurch. Christchurch gained attention around the world over a decade ago when two earthquakes struck the city in September 2010 and February 2011. Thousands of people were injured and 185 residents lost their lives due to crumbling infrastructure. New housing developments were abandoned and several thousand homes were destroyed (New Zealand History, 2011). Residents from within the city and surrounding areas were left with paralyzing anxiety waiting for the aftershock of the first earthquake which came in February 2011 as another quake which insured more damage. Residents who lived along the coast were concerned about a subsequent tsunami and fled their homes in anticipation of giant waves. The estimated cost to rebuild homes and major parts of the city center was $5 billion NZD in 2010 (New Zealand History, 2021).

The effects of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes are still felt around the city, the rugby stadium is still being rebuilt, heritage properties and historic cathedrals are boarded up and there is constant construction within the city center. Driving to coastal neighborhoods like New Brighton have parcels of land that sit empty, still containing the left-over rubble now covered in overgrown grasses. These blocks of city land may never be rebuilt as the land liquified during the quakes and no longer has structural integrity. Figure 1 shows the area of the Canterbury region which was affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquake. As you can see the damage is centralized in the city and in the rural area of Darfield, about 35 kilometers west of Christchurch. Researchers estimate that the next earthquake which would be a magnitude of 7 is expected to hit Christchurch in the next 40 years (The Royal Society of New Zealand, n.d.).

Figure 1


The group of people that were disproportionately affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes were the Māori people. The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and within the city of Christchurch have the highest populations within the eastern side of the city. Studies have shown that Māori are over-represented within poorer areas of the city. A study undertaken by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority found that Māori rated their overall quality of life as poor after the earthquake. Some of the attributes that contributed to their responses were poor quality of housing, income loss, transport pressures and lack of access to nature. Resilience against the effects of the earthquake came from Māori who leaned on strong community ties and an income which allowed for financial security (Lambert, 2014).

Traditional Māori building techniques have started to reemerge and may be included in the rebuilding of the city. These endangered techniques of building called Mīmiro relies on “interlocking compression joints” instead of bolting parts together. These building techniques were found on the ships that the Māori used to traverse the Pacific ocean. Professors at the University of Auckland tested the resilience of a timber structure using Mīmiro and found that it could withstand a 7.8 magnitude earthquake (McDonald, 2023). Utilizing traditional methods of building can create resistance within the community and couple current technology with tried and true Māori building practices.

A study conducted after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes found that communities without strong pre-existing community based organizations and disaster response teams had more residents who claimed feelings of depression, social withdrawal and negative spirals of adversity. They also found from responses in the study that they wanted city officials to listen more to community perspective and explain their decision making (HRC, 2013).

To ensure that community members feel they have support ahead of the next earthquake, a sense of social connectedness is necessary. Continuing to fund local disaster response teams will continue to help residents feel proactive against the next disaster. Fortifying community organizations and ensuring that they continue to be funded and advertised so that more members of the community can participate is necessary. I believe being prepared for the next earthquake would look like a program to have older homes and buildings inspected more frequently to find weak points that may become a serious problem in the future. Holding more neighbourhood and community meetings so people can connect with their fellow residents, create contact sheets and ensure everyone knows about the city disaster programs would be helpful.

I would like to contribute, if given the opportunity but helping with possible site visits. I would like to do sample testing of potential liquefied ground material. It would be great to have the opportunity to pass out flyers and connect with older members of the community who may not access online resources. I could envision that members of the community who are elderly may not know about community response teams and other resources offered by the city. Creating a step-by-step emergency brochure for vulnerable members of the community that they can refer to would also be helpful.

Overall, the likelihood of another earthquake in Christchurch is high if not inevitable. Planning for the next disaster and ensuring that community members and vulnerable groups have the resources and sense of togetherness needed to endure future earthquakes is paramount. While there are many programs in the city that help affected families, these programs cannot expire and need constant updating to ensure they exist before the next earthquake. Relying on traditional

Māori building techniques and including members of the community in the rebuilding of

Christchurch will make certain that the infrastructure of the city will outlast the next quake.


HRC. (2013, March 15). 'Virtuous circle' helps Christchurch communities recover from earthquakes. Health Research Council of New Zealand. Retrieved November, 2023, from -earthquakes

Lambert, S. (2014). MÄORI AND THE CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKES. Mai, 1(2), 1-16.

McDonald, K. (2023, April 23). Māori traditional construction techniques 'conclusively proven' to withstand major earthquakes. NZ Herald. Retrieved November, 2023, from


New Zealand History. (2011, February 22). Christchurch earthquake kills 185 | NZHistory, New Zealand history online. NZ History. Retrieved November, 2023, from

The Royal Society of New Zealand. (n.d.). The Canterbury Earthquakes: Scientific answers to critical


September 2010 Canterbury (Darfield) earthquake - 2010 Canterbury (Darfield) earthquake | NZHistory, New Zealand history online. (2021, October 4). NZ History. Retrieved November, 2023, from


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