Home crisis threatens health 'tsunami'

Christchurch's housing troubles could cause "a tsunami" of demand on the city's health services, a Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) member says.

Board members this week discussed how poverty, overcrowding, poor housing and the rental shortage would affect people's health.

Board member Andy Dickerson said residents in earthquake-hit eastern suburbs were "struggling like never before".

"We have people in our communities living in cold, damaged homes, we have overcrowding and now we have a rental shortage," he said.

He said these issues were "not just social problems".

"This can have a huge impact on us too as a health organisation. All of these issues put together have the potential to create a tsunami in terms of weight on our health services," he said.

The discussion was part of the board's home-heating position statement developed in response to Environment Canterbury's (ECan) decision to refuse prior-use rights for logburners for quake-damaged homes being rebuilt.

ECan's Christchurch air plan, introduced in 2010 to improve air quality, does not allow woodburners in new homes, including quake rebuilds, but lets houses with existing approved burners continue using them.

The board voted to continue supporting the plan, with the exception of Aaron Keown and Wendy Gilchrist, who disagree with ECan's policy on woodburners.

The report, called Housing, Home Heating and Air Quality, said premature death, respiratory disease and mental health problems were all consequences of cold homes.

"Heating and healthy homes are so important ... and what was missing from the report was what we were going to do with it," board member Chris Mene said.

He challenged agencies to adopt the report and called on Healthy Christchurch partners to "put a stake in the ground".

Healthy Christchurch aims to to ensure co-operation between organisations that work towards a healthy environment.

It includes Ngai Tahu, the Christchurch City Council, the police, the City Mission and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Dickerson said housing issues in Christchurch could lead to influenza, whooping cough and measles outbreaks.

"Warmth is a basic human right and we need to ask if we are doing enough as a public health organisation to ensure people are not living in cold homes," he said.

Dickerson said people who did not have enough money to install efficient heating would resort to gas heaters.

"Gas heaters are very dangerous," he said. "There's a fire risk, but also the noxious gases released from them are harmful."

The report estimated air pollution in Christchurch caused 160 premature deaths each year.

Smoke from woodburners is responsible for nearly 80 per cent of the premature deaths.