Residents living in the gas production area in Groningen with a long history of property damage suffer from a health disparity. The earthquake issue has created a group of ‘victims of the system’ who, despite years of damage and reinforcement procedures, have still not been offered a suitable solution. Some even decide to move to another area in order to escape the misery caused by gas production. There is plenty that municipalities can do, however, to ensure that neighbourhoods and villages remain liveable. These are the conclusions that Dr Katherine Stroebe and Prof. Tom Postmes of the University of Groningen have drawn from their most recent Gronings Perspectief study, conducted at the request of the National Coordinator Groningen.
The study focused on several questions: What impact do property damage and reinforcement measures have on residents’ health, safety and levels of confidence? How does social cohesion in villages and neighbourhoods evolve over time?
The gas production issue has created a significant number of victims of the system; residents who have had to deal with property damage for many years, and as a result feel as though they have been let down for a long time. This group suffers from a considerable health disparity, characterized by psychological and physical complaints. Damage and reinforcement procedures are often generic, since authorities have to assist a large group of people. As a result, long-term victims do not get the attention and support that they need. Stroebe: ‘One resident said that she has had property damage since 2014, and that she is waiting for her fourth claims settlement. She feels unsafe because the foundations of her house have never been inspected. She is also afraid that she will have to go through the whole claims process again if there is another earthquake. Our recommendation is to organize the procedures in such a way that you can provide tailor-made solutions for this group of residents. Only then will they be able to get on with their lives.’
For some residents, the issue has become so distressing that they have had to distance themselves from it: they no longer report damage or they move elsewhere. This emerged in interviews with 14 residents, who were also interviewed in 2017. Stroebe: ‘The increase in the sense of powerlessness is particularly striking. Residents don’t want to go on like this. They are tired of fighting with the authorities. For some, the situation has become so untenable that they have moved to finally get away from it all. They refer to it as their escape. This is the first time we have observed this in all the years that we have been following these people.’
Focus groups in four villages and neighbourhoods revealed that municipalities play a major role in promoting social cohesion in villages and neighbourhoods. In areas where residents are regarded as full partners, it is possible to achieve major improvements in a short period of time. In villages where residents feel neglected by the municipality, cooperation with authorities and sometimes also between residents breaks down. Stroebe: ‘This study demonstrates just how important it is for municipalities to actively promote social cohesion.’
Gronings Perspectief is a collaboration between the University of Groningen, the Municipal Health Service (GGD) Groningen and the Groningen Social and Cultural Planning Office. The researchers are assisted by a supervisory committee comprising the relevant municipalities, the Municipal Health Service, special interest group Groninger Bodembeweging, cross-sectoral collective of social organizations Groninger Gasberaad, the National Coordinator Groningen, the Province of Groningen, the Veiligheidsregio (safety region) Groningen and the Association of Groningen Villages, as well as scientific experts.
Since 2016, a team led by Dr Stroebe and Prof. Postmes has been investigating the health, safety and future prospects of residents of all municipalities in the gas production area, on behalf of the National Coordinator Groningen. A panel of Groningen residents periodically completes a questionnaire on safety, health and future prospects. All of the findings of Gronings Perspectief are published on the website.
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