Storytelling helps emergency preparedness

Mar 28, 2024

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the AF8 Programme are tapping into Mātauranga Māori, Ngāi Tahu creation stories and weaving them with scientific knowledge to drive home the message of emergency preparedness.

It’s highly likely that a magnitude 8+ Alpine Fault earthquake (AF8) will happen within the next 50 years. An earthquake of that size would cause widespread damage and disruption across Te Waipounamu (South Island).

To help whānau prepare for such an event, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the AF8 Programme have teamed up to strengthen our understanding of the Alpine Fault – using storytelling and scientific modelling.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Justin Tipa explains that according to Ngāi Tahu creation stories, earthquakes are caused by Rūaumoko, the son of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and his wife Papatūanuku (the Earth Mother). Māori have experienced rū whenua, meaning ‘the shaking of the land’ for centuries.

“Science tells us the Alpine Fault ruptures about every 300 years, and that the last significant rupture occurred in 1717,” he says.

“Over millions of years, these seismic events have shaped the landscape of Te Waipounamu (South Island), lifting it from the ocean and forming the peaks of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps) with each large earthquake the Alpine Fault generates.”

The campaign centrepiece is a video in which a whānau is traveling to Te Tai Poutini (West Coast) to explore the stories of the Alpine Fault and Ngāi Tahu whenua. A pōua (grandfather) tells his mokopuna (grandchild) stories from their tīpuna, so they can understand what it means for their future. He encourages them to take an active role in preparing their homes and protecting their whānau.

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Justin Tipa says the campaign emphasises the importance of emergency preparedness for the iwi.

“Our marae naturally lead responses in emergency events, implementing the values of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga through the provision of aid and shelter. Half of them have solar panels, enhancing their resilience, and with the support of Te Puni Kokiri, we’re installing emergency pods equipped with resources to support our communities.”

But whānau need to prepare themselves as well to reduce the impact of an emergency. Practical advice on how to prepare for natural hazard events, what to do during and after, are available on the Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and AF8 programme websites.

“The key thing is to take action now,” says Justin Tipa.

“Kauraka e mataku, kia takatū – Don’t be scared, be prepared.”

AF8 Science Lead Dr Tom Robinson says it’s impossible to predict the next large Alpine Fault earthquake but “we can prepare for it, and we need to work together to do that”.

“Anything we do to prepare now will make it easier for us to respond and recover in the future, not just for a large Alpine Fault earthquake, but any other natural hazard event that challenges us here in Te Waipounamu.”

Funding from Toka Tū Ake EQC contributed to the campaign.

Its public education manager Hamish Armstrong applauds the campaign as it will help people feel less overwhelmed by large-scale natural hazard events.

“The use of cultural storytelling is a really engaging way to communicate the message of emergency preparedness. It’s vital that our communities understand that together there’s a lot we can do to reduce the impact of these hazards,” Hamish Armstrong says.


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