Call to get $90m left in quake funds to needy
MICHAEL WRIGHT AND GEORGINA STYLIANOU
More than $90 million in quake relief funds have not been allocated and community leaders are calling for faster, more focused spending.
Tens of millions of dollars in donations flooded in from around the world after the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes.
But the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, established by Prime Minister John Key and headed by former NZX chief executive Mark Weldon, is yet to decide what to do with $49.3m of the $99.6m it has received.
A total of $50.3 million had been allocated to 112 projects, including $14m to repair the Arts Centre and $2m in sports recovery grants.
Last night Weldon told The Press "a good chunk" of the remainder would be allocated within 12 to 18 months.
"Of the $50m, I would say between $20m and $25m has already been directed by the donor so we have restrictions around that and sometimes it takes a bit of research to find a project that fits the bill," he said.
Some have suggested using the funds to help ease Christchurch's housing problems.
However, Weldon said that was "outside the scope" of the fund and there would simply not be enough money to "solve the issues en masse".
The trust has a 10-year life but it was hoped the money would be distributed in two years, he said.
Red Cross, which had $33m of the more than $115m in its fund unspent, was planning to relax qualification standards for its winter assistance grant. The $400 grant was currently available only to households with old, young or sick inhabitants.
"We want to extend winter [heating] assistance so it's not just [for] vulnerable people," a spokeswoman said.
However, the aid agency had no plans to wade further into Christchurch's housing issues. "We don't have the money to tackle accommodation. It's not our job, anyway. We're not a social agency. That's for the Government to figure out."
Wider Earthquake Communities' Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman said Christchurch residents had been let down by poor leadership in aid distribution.
"We want it directed to supporting ordinary Cantabrians. Not stadiums or convention centres or clubs. We need it to go first and foremost to those who are in the middle of the ocean drowning."
The belated response to housing issues compounded the problem, he said.
"They've only just started to do this [Department of Building and Housing] review in terms of homelessness and rentals and accommodation. If that had been done a lot sooner we would know where to place this money."
Coleman singled out Red Cross for making "some odd decisions".
"It seemed they had an awful lot of money and didn't know what to do with it.
"It was handing out money because they really struggled ... to use it in more constructive ways and now they won't give it out to folk they really could help."
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) member Andrew Dickerson said the money should "target the region's most vulnerable people".
"This isn't even close to being acceptable and it makes me really angry ... everything humanly possible should be done to fix this and some of the money from those trusts should go to [them] immediately.
"The level of hardship I'm seeing is unbelievable and it's something I never thought I would see in New Zealand."
Dickerson said social agencies that had daily contact with people who were struggling should be able to apply for and distribute funds.
Age Concern, Plunket, the Methodist Mission and Barnardos were agencies that would "have a very good idea of who was in need".
The Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund has $2.6m unallocated and the Salvation Army Canterbury Earthquake Appeal $9.7m.
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