CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Officials from the New Zealand Association of Credit Unions (NZACU), a member of World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), are still assessing damages caused to their member organizations by Tuesday's devastating earthquake that all but leveled Christchurch, the country's second largest metro area. Given the widespread devastation in Canterbury Province, the news is better than might be expected, according to Henry Lynch, NZACU CEO.
"We know of two credit unions damaged in Christchurch, but no lives were lost and no injuries occurred," said Lynch. "New Zealand Credit Union South (NZCUS) is our second largest member and Christchurch Emergency Credit Union (CECU), which serves ambulance drivers and emergency medical personal, is one of the smallest."
As expected, members of the $1 million asset CECU have been heavily involved in search and rescue efforts in the earthquake's aftermath. Meanwhile, $112 million asset NZCUS staff members have been arranging emergency cash loans for members affected by the quake and will soon begin an outbound calling program to each of its 23,864 members to see further assistance is needed, Lynch said.
The 6.3-magnitude tremor, which struck the area Tuesday at 12:50 p.m. local time, killed at least 75 people and trapped hundreds more people in the rubble of destroyed buildings. Devastation within the earthquake zone has been widespread, according to Ramsey Margolis, executive director of the New Zealand Cooperatives Association. Communication in the zone is limited to text messaging and occasional emails, and homes and businesses throughout the region have been "munted," the New Zealand term for "destroyed." Fortunately, food and milk cooperatives have stepped forward to provide aid to earthquake victims, Margolis said.
"Fonterra Cooperative Group members have diverted some of their milk collection tankers to bring in fresh water," Margolis said. "The meat co-ops are helping to feed people who've been displaced and farmers in general are offering to put people from the city up."
Tuesday's earthquake was the second to hit the region in five months. The new earthquake has caused significantly greater damage that the previous stronger one that struck in September because the epicenter was located closer to downtown Christchurch and occurred closer to the earth's surface. The quake destroyed Christchurch Cathedral, sending its steeple toppling into the street below, and broke off a 30-ton block of ice from the nearby Tasman Glacier.
"It is just a scene of utter devastation," said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to local press. "We may well be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day."
NZACU, which serves New Zealand's 21 credit unions, is taking steps to help its member institutions. The Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, part of WOCCU, has also stepped in and will work with NZACU's Canterbury Earthquake Relief Fund to channel donations to credit unions in need. WOCCU will contribute from its own disaster relief funds and invites interested individuals and credit unions to contribute to New Zealand credit union rebuilding and relief.
"The global credit union movement has distinguished itself through unity and cooperation, especially in times of dire need," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and COO. "New Zealand's credit unions have consistently been among the first to step forward to provide assistance to credit unions elsewhere in need. Now it is our turn to help them so that they, in turn, can better help their own members recover from this disaster."
WOCCU will be sending its donation directly to the Canterbury Earthquake Relief Fund. Those interested in making a contribution to New Zealand's relief efforts can send their donation via check, credit card or wire to:
Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, 5710 Mineral Point Rd., Madison, WI 53705, USA
Donations may be made online with a credit card at www.woccu.org/give. For wire transfer information, contact: Valerie Breunig, Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, +1-608-395-2055, or email@example.com. Please indicate that your donation is for Canterbury Earthquake Relief Fund.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.