Quake exodus fears not realised
Last updated 05:00 27/04/2011
Fears of an earthquake-driven exodus from Christchurch have been dispelled by a new study.
At worst, up to 8000 people may leave the city in the year after the February 22 quake, the report said.
Estimates soon after the quake suggested up to 70,000 people had temporarily fled the city, with some experts saying 4 per cent of the city's population – about 16,000 residents – could stay away for a year.
The report, commissioned by the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), used population data from other natural disasters, such as the Kobe earthquake in Japan, Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, to assess the quake's possible impact on Christchurch's population.
The study found that population levels were likely to change by no more than 2 per cent in the year after the quake and could even increase as construction workers arrived for the rebuilding effort.
The study's author, Tom Love, of Australasian consulting firm Sapere Research Group, said many residents had commitments in the city that could not be easily broken.
"People are tied to their location through employment, home ownership and a whole bunch of things like that, and those are really strong ties."
He said the city's long-term population growth would lessen the impact of quake-related migration.
Migration tended to be "highly localised" to badly hit areas, and some residents who left their homes would relocate in unaffected areas of the city.
Population decreases were likely to be more noticeable in areas with significant damage, while poorer residents were more likely to leave the city and for longer periods, Love said.
"If you're lower down the socioeconomic scale, you're less likely to have your own home or have long-term employment, so there's less tying you to the area."
He said the initial estimate of 70,000 departures was highly unlikely to be reached.
The figure could have been inflated by a "certain amount of panic" after the quake.
"The immediate perception was that a whole bunch of people went away from areas like the eastern suburbs, but there were more people who stayed there that we didn't think were around," he said.
Statistics New Zealand figures on school enrolments indicated that 8.9 per cent of Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn pupils had re-enrolled outside the three areas after the quake.
That number had since dropped to 6.4 per cent, and Love believed it would continue to fall as the city's recovery continued.
CDHB planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery said the board, which is funded on a population basis, had commissioned the study to determine how it allocated health resources.
"We wanted to know how many people we needed to provide services for, where people are and where they might end up."
She was not surprised by the study's findings as a "quick look at the literature" on the topic had suggested that many would return.
The board would be "rebalancing" resources to account for population decreases in badly hit areas and would focus on providing support to disadvantaged families.
"The vulnerable populations get hit extra hard, so it's important that we do what we can to make sure that doesn't happen in Canterbury," she said.
Mayor Bob Parker said the study was "very reassuring news" for residents.
He said the city could use the rebuild to gain a "competitive edge" over other parts of the country.
- The Press