Everyone is affected after a disaster. But some people are affected worse than others. Nearly one in 5 people in Christchurch self-report that they have some current physical or psychological disability. And disabled people are known to be more vulnerable following disaster and experience many barriers regarding community access, housing, assistance, and social connection in a disaster’s aftermath.
However, perhaps surprisingly, little is known about their longer-term health and wellbeing. To address this gap, researchers from the Burwood Academy Trust, the University of Canterbury, and the Canterbury DHB examined 10 years of data from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s Wellbeing Survey.
Their findings have just been published in the prestigious International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Interestingly, there appeared to be no difference in disabled and non-disabled sense of community immediately after the earthquake, suggesting a potential halo effect.
Christchurch united and came together for many people during this time even though it devastated many people’s lives and livelihoods. This halo effect lasted for a couple of years but has since fallen away for disabled people – and now there are wide differences, with disabled people having significantly less sense of community than non-disabled people. Greater stress and reduced quality of life and wellbeing were experienced by disabled people at the time of the earthquake – and those unequal differences continue to this day.
Another interesting but perhaps not unexpected finding of this study was that the overall positive gains made by both disabled and non-disabled people since the CHCH earthquakes now appear to be negatively impacted by COVID-19. Future surveys will allow us to see just by how much, especially as the delta variant has crept into Christchurch.