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Impact of Rena oil spill part of wider disaster research

Thursday, October 4, 2012
Impact of Rena oil spill part of wider disaster research

Emergency management specialists from Massey’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research are to revisit the scene of the Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty as part of a $760,000 project investigating the resilience of communities having to cope with disaster on their doorstep.

The Ministry of Science and Innovation project, funded over two years, will add to existing knowledge about building resilience in New Zealand communities in the wake of such events as the Canterbury earthquakes, response to economic uncertainty and the oil spill off the Bay of Plenty coast caused by the grounding of the container ship a year ago this week.

Researchers will return to the Tauranga area in the New Year to talk to affected locals. Joint Centre director, Professor David Johnston, says the study is “recasting the lens” over recent disasters in New Zealand drawing in particular on aspects of what happened in Christchurch.

“One of the questions we will be looking at, is to what extent does scale [the physical size of the event and the population affected] have on disasters?”

The research would also examine the longer-term psychosocial impact the eruptions at Mt Ruapehu of 1995-96 and the Manawatu floods of 2004 had on their communities .It would update existing research which challenged some assumptions about what groups were most affected in a disaster.

“Research from previous events does not always confirm that the people you think would be most vulnerable are,” Professor Johnston says.

“For example some of the elderly have a far more practical perspective on such events having lived through the economic deprivation of the Great Depression and the fear and uncertainty of World War II. Similarly, there’s another study which shows that people in rural areas who are used to power cuts, are less fazed by such incidents than a lot of city folk.”

Professor Johnston’s colleague, Associate Professor Sarb Johal, who is also part of the project research team, stated in a recent opinion piece for Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand magazine about the importance of disaster preparedness for all scenarios.

‘We can plan to meet the needs of the present, but good practice means we must build in contingency for the future – on a nationwide basis for all hazards, not just the Canterbury earthquakes or the last event we have had to cope with.”

Professor Johnston says the research, via a collaborative initiative with Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu iwi, will also investigate post-disaster community resilience in urban, rural and Maori communities. Earlier research indicated Tikangia Maori were “an inherent part of community resilience” which together with marae structures and protocols enables effective community response to crises such as floods.

“Understanding how Maori institutions contribute at community level to resilience building, responding to change and recovery from shocks and disasters is of distinct benefit to New Zealand,” he says.


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