Lessons will make coastal cities more resilient

31 May 2013

A UC geography expert believes lessons from Christchurch can make New Zealand's coastal cities like Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin more disaster-resilient.

Lessons will make coastal cities more resilient

Dr Deirdre Hart

A University of Canterbury geography expert believes lessons from Christchurch can make New Zealand’s coastal cities like Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin more disaster-resilient.

UC’s Dr Deirdre Hart says in the aftermath of significant earthquakes, coastal risk assessments need to be revisited. This need occurs at the same time as planners are pressured into making swift decisions about the recovery of damaged areas.

A team of UC geographers and engineers have been crossing traditional boundaries to gather evidence from coastal cities including Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Napier and Auckland, as well as Tohoku in Japan, Port-au-Prince in Haiti, Lisban in Portugal and Charleston in the USA.

Their findings will help New Zealand understand what makes places more susceptible to seismic hazards and, in turn, how seismic events make coastal cities more vulnerable to hazards like sea level rise, coastal erosion, tsunami, storm inundation, marine pollution and catastrophic lifelines failures.

Research on the vulnerability of coastal cities to earthquakes is important as around 75 per cent of New Zealanders live less than 10 km from the coast, including 96 per cent of Aucklanders, 76 per cent of Wellingtonians and 36 per cent of pre-quake Cantabrians, who live less than 5 km from the coast.

"It is a big concern internationally given that coastal populations are growing at twice the rate of the total population worldwide so that over 50 per cent of humanity is forecast to live in coastal settlements by 2050," Dr Hart says.

Evidence indicates that, in reality, capacity to incorporate into recovery plans the lessons that could make coastal cities more disaster resilient is limited if the hazard links are not understood before a quake occurs.

"For places like Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Tohuku it’s not hard to find the links. This means identifying the liquefaction, rockfall, cliff collapse, sewerage, water and transport system risks associated with coastal plains and thinking about what regional forecasts of sea level rise, coastal erosion and pollution rates mean in a tectonic setting.

"This provides us with a great opportunity to avoid or mitigate future development-disaster cycles for quake-prone coastal cities by becoming aware of these links so we can minimise their effects and build resilience into everyday planning. We now know much more about how to construct multi-hazard recovery methods before disasters occur."

"Lifelines failures in land-based settings can mean raw sewerage discharges and emergency dumping of contaminated urban rubble into coastal waters, without the normal cleaning procedures," says Dr Hart, who is chair of the New Zealand Coastal Society.

She will deliver a paper on coastal hazards at a public conference on campus on tomorrow.


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