REFUGEE CITY is the rest of Christchurch -- mainly the eastern suburbs, though there are pockets elsewhere. It includes perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 people, though a more-mobile chunk of them may have self-evacuated by now.
Only half of those who remain in Refugee City have power, and almost NONE have running water. Many have been living on their own resources, and their neighbours', for over a week now.
That means that batteries have run down, gas (if they had any to start with) has run out, other supplies are low or gone. Roads are often very bad - and a lot of those from the poorer suburbs have no transport anyway.
Their houses may or may not be intact. Their streets may be clear, broken, or full of silt. Or sewage. There are no showers. Or ways to wash clothes. Or to wash dishes. Or to heat the "must boil" water that is available -- assuming they can make it to the nearest water truck, day after day. No refrigeration. No working toilets, and precious few portaloos. No face masks to defend against the blown silt.
They have no internet either, and usually no phones. And their radio batteries are dead or dying. The papers -- if you can get one -- are rapidly dated, and usually far too general in their coverage. It really doesn't help someone without a car in Aranui to know that Fisher and Paykel are providing free laundries in Kaiapoi!
All the above means the locals have few resources, little information, and no "voice" either. It's remarkably hard to call talkback radio - or your local politician -- or emergency services -- when your landline is out and your cellphone battery is dead. Or when it maybe has JUST enough charge to stay on hold for 5 minutes - but not 20! - when calling the sole government helpline.
The media flies over, drives past and dips into Refugee City, usually at the main welfare or water points. But they don't cover it that much. From my observations, the officials - those who are making decisions about the relief effort - seem to do likewise.
(We saw Opposition Leader Phil Goff the other day - he stopped for a photo op with the Army group who had paused briefly at the cordon. Not that he or they talked to any of the locals waiting amidst they dust they'd stirred up, hoping for a nugget of information.)
Judging from the media coverage to date, the official response in this part of the city sounds reassuring - "Relief Centres" (if you can get to them -- and if it hasn't been relocated to Rangiora), a field hospital (ditto), Army (two drive-bys in the past week), "Operation Suburbs" teams (ditto; and this whole area is not even listed with them), increased police presence thanks to 300 loaned Australians (some sign of them, but not enough). And some worthy and welcome images of food and other supplies being distributed at marae and other central points.
IN THESE POWERLESS SUBURBS, THE OFFICIAL RESPONSE IS FAR FROM ENOUGH. Especially in terms of the fundamentals.
these are the stories we need to be hearing more of. as i said in an earlier post, whoever is covered by the media is who we identify with and who we want to help. at least there is some coverage starting to happen, but not nearly enough.
ETA: i was talking to the chairperson of the waikato refugee forum today, and he had spent the morning at housing nz, trying to get accommodation for around 20 refugee families moving up from christchurch. they told him that they would only assist those refugees who were already housing nz tenants. this isn't good enough. i know that auckland is really starting to get stretched, with quite a number moving up there. there needs to be better co-ordination and support of nationwide services, particularly for those in the lowest socio-economic group.