Regional Director visits earthquake-stricken Christchurch

13 to 15 April 2011

Dr Shin visits the destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand

On 22 February, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand, devastating large parts of Christchurch, the country's second-largest city. New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster in 80 years left more than 170 people dead.

At the invitation of New Zealand's Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo visited Christchurch for a first-hand look at the situation and to learn how the New Zealand authorities responded to the disaster.

Dr Shin said he was impressed by the speed and efficiency of the disaster response. "New Zealand's investments over many years in developing a comprehensive emergency response system paid off when it counted," he said. "There was a well-coordinated and integrated structure in place with clearly defined roles and responsibilities."

The earthquake, which struck at 12:51 a.m., brought down or badly damaged some of Christchurch's finest old buildings, including the Christchurch cathedral. The total cost of the damage is estimated at US$ 3 billion.

Dr Shin said he was impressed by the response of ordinary people to the disaster. "Everybody lent a hand," he said. "It was a true display of the 'can do' spirit for which Kiwis are so famous." Dr Shin said he was told that the role of communities will be further incorporated into New Zealand's future disaster preparedness planning.

Dr Shin learnt that a comprehensive system for addressing psychosocial needs is being extended to people affected by disasters, while differentiating this from what is considered normal reactions to difficult situations.

A lesson learnt from the earthquake was that planning has to be in place for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, renal patients and other people with complex medical needs if their medical or social support services are knocked out by a disaster.

In discussions, the New Zealand authorities said they would like to work with WHO in sharing lessons learnt on safe hospital design and collaborative research into preparedness and recovery.

"Being there was an invaluable and moving experience," Dr Shin said. "In our discussions, we agreed that there is potential for considerable cooperation between New Zealand and WHO in the field of disaster preparedness and response. We wish the people of New Zealand well in their work to recover from the terrible event and our sympathies go to those who have lost their loved ones."