We're not in Christchurch anymore

21:59, Oct 01 2012

I've been unexpectedly confronted with memories of Christchurch's earthquake over the past few days. That February day, winging my way to the shaky city, like all other reporters who weren't there for the actual shake, I had no idea what to expect. At first it was a blur of roadblocks, shattered buildings, and sleepless aftershock-filled nights. Getting information was difficult - who was in charge? Where would authorities be addressing the media? How bad was the damage?

But by day three or four, it seemed some type of order was under way. Media liaison officers from every council in the country (it seemed) were pulled in to abate and inform the media throng. The art gallery transformed into a bustling headquarters, a constant flow of hi-viz vests and clipboards streaming from its front doors.

Now, on the other side of the world, I'm wondering what the same sort of order might have done in Niger. As the country faces its worst flood in 60 years, 80 Nigeriens have lost their lives, and thousands have had their homes destroyed.

Of course, the two disasters in themselves cannot and should not be compared. But what got me thinking was the difference in the ability to respond quickly, and how an already shaky infrastructure affects the final impact of a disaster. Haiti is one example that springs to mind.

Being a third world country, Niger's infrastructure is basic to say the least. The idea of gutters to direct the flow of any sort of runoff is a very recent one - so what should've been heavy rain turns into a flooded village.

Even at the best of times, roads in Niger are bad, making getting to areas affected by flooding even more difficult.


And the government, already struggling to coordinate a response to the more than six million people facing food insecurity as a result of drought, was always going to have a slow response. That's despite the fact Niger can count on extreme weather at this time of year.

So I found myself at a polytech campus (see photo below), where Oxfam and some other local aid agencies are handing out emergency survival kits. Tents, mosquito nets, buckets, that sort of thing. Then I'm told the people getting these kits have all lost their homes, and been living in the polytech campus for the past two weeks. There are 200 of them. And one toilet.

If it wasn't for this outside help, these people would be getting nothing. They've only got two more days left in the campus, before school resumes and they have to figure out where to go next. If this was New Zealand, the Campbell Live complaint truck would be parked firmly at the entrance.

I'm not saying it's any easier to weather a disaster when it affects you directly. Human emotion is universal, regardless of where you live or how you were brought up. I only wonder what a few more hi-viz vests and clipboards might do on this side of the world.