“When things turn to custard you need good governance”

The Christchurch earthquakes highlighted the vital importance of good governance.
By Andy McElroy

GENEVA, 21 June 2013 - Two countries sitting at opposite ends of the world are emerging as beacons of good practice in terms of innovative public-private partnerships that have been proven to reduce disaster risk.

More than 18,000km separates New Zealand from Scotland but the two countries are much closer when it comes to pursuing proactive partnerships to strengthen the resilience of their communities and countries.

The recently released 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) showcases the two countries as providing clear examples of holistic disaster risk management that moves well beyond preparedness and response.

The report, entitled Creating Shared Value: the Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction, highlights a public-private partnership study in Christchurch, New Zealand, that prompted the city’s utilities to incorporate disaster risk management into their daily practices.

The true test, and indeed worth, of this initiative was revealed in the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, which caused damage of USD4 billion and USD12 billion respectively. As a result, the Port of Littleton was able to quickly reopen, telecommunications buildings remained operational despite being damaged and most of the city’s retrofitted bridges survived intact.

Key features of the project were the wide involvement of public and private sector representatives, assessments that covered a range of hazards and a formalised coordination process through a body called the Canterbury Lifeline Utilities Group.

Similarly Orion, a local electricity distribution company, invested USD6 million in seismic strengthening that saved the company USD65 million in direct losses from earthquake damage. In contrast, residential losses were high because of a history of land-use decisions that allowed development on areas susceptible to liquefaction, lateral spreading and subsidence in the event of earthquakes.

Roger Sutton, CEO of Orion at the time of the earthquakes and now the head of the Canterbury Earthquake Authority, pinpoints the importance of effective public leadership.

As a keynote speaker at the recent 4th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Mr Sutton said: “Cranes and diggers are simply commodities and can be bought whereas institutions and good governance simply cannot be bought. When things turn to custard you need good governance.”
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Global Assessment Report details how a national planning policy has reduced construction on flood plains to almost zero since 1995. The approach is founded on public-private partnerships with strong involvement of real estate developer and insurers.

Local governments, with key support from insurers, are legally obliged to set up Flood Liaison Advice Groups (FLAG) as non-statutory bodies of public and private sector representatives. The groups have attracted a remarkably wide coalition of interested parties including emergency planners, hydrology consultants to police and rail representatives. All issues relating to water management are addressed.

“The success of the initiative is undisputed. Only one local authority, Moray, did not engage and continued construction in floodplains. Consequently, it now has serious problems with flooding, and access to flood insurance,” the Global Assessment Report says.
VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018 VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018.
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