Student profile: David Wither
Social Resilience in the Hurunui: Outcomes of Institutional Support after Adverse Events
A bit about me
I spent the first five years of my life in Dunedin, the second five years in India and the next eight in Wanaka. The different cultures I grew up in galvanised my interest in people and led to me studying sociology as an undergrad at the University of Otago. After graduating, I spent the next 4 years working at the Social Research Centre in Melbourne. As a part of this job I was involved in many different government and university research projects, where I spoke with a wide variety of people. During my time there I became very interested in the systems we create for ourselves, and how they impact on people. I returned to Dunedin to do honours, after which I ended up in this programme.
Within the challenge, my project is seen as a bridge between the rural and cultural teams. The brief of my scholarship was to integrate within both teams and investigate social and community resilience to natural hazards in rural North Canterbury. North Canterbury has experienced many adverse events over the last decade. Most notably, the region was peripherally impacted by the Canterbury Earthquakes. Following this there was a major drought lasting approx. 4 years, at the apex of which the Hurunui-Kaikoura earthquake struck. And during the aftermath of the earthquake, the true extent of the M. Bovis outbreak also became apparent.
Given the experiences faced by people in North Canterbury, and my interest in the systems we create for ourselves, and how they impact on people, I decided that I wanted to understand how the government had responded to these adverse events, and how that response impacted the people. I wanted to get multiple perspectives on this issue from all of the people involved, from those who enacted the response, to those who experienced it. As such, broadly, I am speaking to three different groups of people – 1) Local farm households in the Hurunui, 2) Local and Regional government/organisations 3) National government and organisations.
I am currently finishing up my fieldwork. I have captured all the local and regional data, and am about to head off to collect national level data. Once this is done, I’ll be doing analysis and writing it all up – the final stage of a PhD.
Ultimately, the goal of this PhD is to gain a much better understanding of the human dimensions of disaster resilience. Previously a lot of attention has been paid to the business, infrastructure and economic side of things, yet common to all these are people. In this vein, this research attempts to integrate with the recent focus on wellbeing by the government. We need a better understanding of how people react in disasters, in order to create better systems for managing the response and recovery. These factors can be complex as, for example, much was learnt in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, yet not all of these lessons applied to the Hurunui-Kaikoura earthquake, as the way rural and urban communities react to adverse events can be extremely different.