Recovery Collection: New Zealand: Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes 2010-2011


On 4 September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck 40 kilometers west of Christchurch in the Canterbury region of the South Island. This marked the beginning of a series of earthquakes that generated over 7,000 aftershocks in the same area, including the Christchurch Earthquake which occurred on 22 February 2011 at a depth of 5 kilometers beneath Christchurch City causing 185 deaths and injuries to over 7,000 people [1]. The damage to land, housing, businesses, and infrastructure, including heritage buildings, as well as to air and water quality across the area, was widespread.

While legal frameworks such as the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002 and recovery guidance such as the Recovery Management: Director’s Guidelines for CDEM Groups (2005) and Focus on Recovery: A Holistic Framework for Recovery in New Zealand (2005) were available at the time of the disaster, recovery limitations were determined that required a special legislation to be put in place, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011. The act established the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) for five years (2011-2016), which was headquartered in Christchurch and tasked with (i) identifying the appropriate institutions (i.e., Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Waimakariri District Council, Selwyn District Council, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu) and providing the support to enable Christchurch to recover as quickly as possible; (ii) engaging communities in the recovery decisions in their area; and (iii) restoring the well-being of the population of Christchurch [2]. CERA was the central decision-making authority and responsible for developing the Canterbury Recovery Strategy, which was approved in May 2012, provided a broad, long-term and multi-stakeholder approach for the recovery of Christchurch, and identified specific issues in the economic, social, built, cultural, and natural dimensions to be addressed through the recovery plans developed by local authorities.

Very early on, CERA demonstrated success in delegating responsibility for critical activities, particularly to the private sector, and rebuilding infrastructure and completing small projects quickly and less costly, showing early wins that bolstered the confidence of the communities [3]. The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, an alliance among CERA, the Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and five private construction firms, oversaw the rebuilding of the city’s roads, and fresh water, wastewater, and stormwater networks with resilience in mind. In 2013, the Land Use Recovery Plan was approved, which integrated land use policies in recovery, and facilitated changes to the Canterbury Council’s district plans, the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement, and other regulations. A purchase offer scheme was put in place by CERA, which enabled residents to relocate to areas of low risk. After the expiry of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act was approved in April 2016 to support the regeneration of greater Christchurch over the next five years (April 2016 to June 2021).

The Canterbury earthquakes led to a range of reviews on disaster risk reduction institutional practices, and the findings later incorporated into policy and planning from the national to local levels in New Zealand. It was determined that the CDEM Act 2002 lacked provisions for planning and implementing recovery thus, the need for a legislative framework to enhance New Zealand’s ability to manage disaster recovery was put forward. The learnings from the Canterbury Earthquakes are shared by the Government of New Zealand through this recovery learning website:


[1] S.H. Potter, J.S. Becker, D.M. Johnston, K.P. Rossiter (2015) An overview of the impacts of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Volume 14, Part 1, pp: 6-14,

[2] ADB. (2018). Institutional Arrangements for Post-Disaster Recovery Case Studies. Manila: ADB.

[3] UNDP. (2021). Handbook on Recovery Institutions: A Guidebook for Recovery Leaders and Practitioners. New York: UNDP.


Items: 18
Case Studies on Institutional Arrangements for Recovery
These case studies describe institutional structures, legal frameworks, and management lessons gleaned from practical experience, providing recovery leaders with insights suited to their context, disaster scenarios, and institutional landscapes.
United Nations Development Programme - Headquarters Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery - UNDP
This study investigates land-use decision-making practices in Christchurch, New Zealand and the surrounding region in response to the mass movement (e.g., rockfall, cliff collapses) and ground surface fault rupture hazards incurred during the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence (CES). Rockfall fatality risk models combining hazard, exposure and vulnerability data were co-produced by earth scientists and decision-makers and formed primary evidence for risk-based land-use decision-making with adaptive capacity.
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, the
This research aimed to improve understanding of aftershock information needs for agencies and the public, and how people interpreted and responded to such information.
This is the report of findings of the formal and independent evaluation of the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Recovery Programme for greater Christchurch.
New Zealand Red Cross
This paper measures the longer-term effect of a major earthquake on the local economy, using night-time light intensity measured from space, and investigate whether insurance claim payments for damaged residential property affected the local recovery process. It focuses on the destructive Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (CES) 2010-2011 in New Zealand as a case study.
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
This report tallies the successes and failures of the recovery effort after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, with the aim of improving future preparedness and recovery initiatives. It provides a number of policy recommendations for disaster preparedness and post-disaster response.
New Zealand Initiative, The
A new report details the reconstruction of Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, following the 2010-11 earthquake series. The document examines the types of structural systems used during the reconstruction of the city, and some of the technical, sociological and political choices associated with those decisions.
University at Buffalo
This report identifies lessons from six countries that have faced significant disaster recovery challenges and employed different management approaches: China, New Zealand, Japan, India, Indonesia, and the United States.
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
This paper seeks to inform policy changes that can be considered in the post 2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, drawing lessons from the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and the Great Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Both events offer the opportunity for researchers and practitioners to review current practice in disasters response and information sharing.
World Bank, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Kyoto University Resilient Organisations
This paper examines the role of business interruption insurance in business recovery following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 in the short and medium term. In the short-term analysis, it asks whether insurance increases the likelihood of business survival in the aftermath of a disaster.
Victoria University of Wellington