My previous earthquake post garnered a fair amount of feedback, some supportive some not so much. That’s all good – discussion and robust debate is always good. I’ve reflected on it a bit and have to admit I was perhaps looking at the issues through my own context, and ignoring the plight of those a little less fortunate than myself. My social conscience, Simone, left a comment saying:

I have always believed charity starts at home. I have also lived on the breadline and know what its like to live week to week just getting through. For those who live on the breadline and have no backup I hate to think what they are feeling right now. I would be embarrassed and ashamed if in our society we did not care enough to make sure our own are looked after over those overseas. Let other wealthy countries look after them while we get back on our feet.

While I believe it’s dangerous to apply some kind of “proximity filter” to disaster aid, I’m prepared to cut Simone a little slack on this one. Yes there are those who are going to need some financial support, while I contend that in this country with our insurance, social welfare and benign (ish) bank system this should be achievable through normal channels, I’ll grant that some allowances need to be made.

What I do want to talk about however is a sad absence of “helping ourselves” that I perceive is occurring. I’ve been seeing Christchurch Fire Brigades driving from house to house removing unstable chimneys. While their efforts are absolutely commendable (these guys and girls are, for the most part, unpaid volunteers who in many cases have their own property damage to think about) I wonder if we’re not abstracting that old Kiwi “muck in, help ourselves and help others” attitude onto others.

While there are some awesome initiatives (the Canterbury University student who is mobilising other students to volunteer for community help is a great example) there is a concerning proliferation of people who are just sitting still waiting for the Government, the Council, emergency services or someone to sort their issues out.

Let’s remind ourselves – this is a natural disaster on a once in 100 year scale. Civil Defence has been telling us for years that in an event such as this we’d be forced to rely on ourselves and each other and wouldn’t get “official” help in all but the highest priority cases.

I part own a large commercial building in Christchurch – we were here only a few hours after the quake and by Monday had obtained an engineers report and had a large team of builders working on the property – if we’d have waited for official help we’d still be waiting for progress.

Sure the less able citizens in our society – the elderly, the infirm – need outside help. But equally the average Jane Citizen should have sufficient preparation, sufficient skill and a sufficiently close community to “get her through”.

In many cases that’s not the case and that’s a sad indictment on ourselves and our community.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Darn right! In our street neighbours helped each other get chimneys sorted out, water boiled for babies, and tarps on roofs.

    No-one suggested calling the fire brigade — I guess we all assumed that they would be busy with actual *emergency* response, not mollycoddling.

  • Totally utterly agree with views in both posts!

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