Humanist Charities: Help Contribute to Relief Efforts in New Zealand

by Erin Williamson

Natural disasters are unavoidable, often unpredictable, and do not discriminate. This past week, Christchurch, New Zealand was shaken by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake only a few miles from the city center, leaving over 100 dead and 200 missing. Buildings collapsed, infrastructure was ruined, and homes and workplaces were leveled. While the number of casualties in New Zealand is a fraction of that following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, we shouldn’t be comparing the death tolls as a measure of how strongly we should react. Over 300 families are mourning the losses of loved ones, and the potential of up to 300 lives was ended prematurely. New Zealand’s population of 4.4 million, a tiny country by almost any standards, is faced with a daunting task of rebuilding its second largest city.

I have spoken to the leaders of the two most prominent humanist organizations in New Zealand, the Humanist Society of New Zealand (HSNZ) and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. They have updated me on not only the situation on the ground, but also have provided a short history of New Zealand’s experiences with earthquakes and earthquake preparedness. The president of HSNZ told me that New Zealand is very susceptible to earthquakes, tsunamis and floods because it is situated on a fault line, which is prone to rumble and shift. Thus, they can experience up to 3000 earthquakes per year, of varying magnitude. Last week’s earthquake had such serious consequences not just because of its magnitude, but also its proximity to the center of Christchurch. Office buildings collapsed, leaving people trapped in the rubble, and as of now, the largest hotel in the city is leaning so precariously that its 23 stories could crash to the ground at any time. However, he assured me that New Zealand has taken many precautions, such as regulating steel enforcement of buildings and providing government insurance up to NZ$100,000 on all damaged homes. However, this particular quake took a serious toll on infrastructure, leaving most of the city without electricity for days, and polluting the water supply in the aquifer. Roads, sewer systems and communications networks have been compromised, and the sand that serves as the foundation for much of east Christchurch has liquefied, causing sand volcanoes.

Humanist Charities, the arm of the American Humanist Association that sends member donations to humanitarian efforts around the world, is asking you to donate to help the victims of this tragic disaster.

All member donations will go directly to the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, who have experience directing money toward local relief organizations that provide assistance in a humanistic manner, free from religious influence, discrimination, or proselytizing. Your donations will contribute to purchasing necessities such as clean drinking water, medical supplies, and shelter for those left with damaged homes. Rescue workers continue to search for the missing, who maybe in desperate need of aid. Of particular concern is a group of about 100 students missing after the collapse of their English language instruction school building. These students are from all over the world, and there is still hope that many of them will be rescued from the ruins of their school.

For such a small country, the fact that in the 2006 census, 32% of New Zealanders responded “none” and nearly 10% responded “other/unidentified” (often where closeted atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc.), is incredible. I think that speaks to the universality of the humanist lifestance—the country is approximately 57% European descent, with significant minorities of Maori (indigenous to New Zealand), Asian and Pacific Islander.

Regardless of religion or lack thereof, as American humanists, our responsibility to people in need is clear. You contributed valiantly to efforts in Haiti, Pakistan, and other disaster-struck countries around the world, which is a true testament to the power of humanity. I hope to see that repeated for those affected in New Zealand.

To donate to Humanist Charities to support the victims of the earthquake in New Zealand, visit Donations will be given to the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, who will direct the funds to local relief organizations in a humanistic manner.

Erin Williamson is the development and communications assistant for the American Humanist Association and administrator for the Institute for Humanist Studies.