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Floods reignite calls to rethink disaster relief spending

·Environment Editor
·4-min read
An aerial view of homes hit by flooding disaster.
Mitigation receives only 3 per cent of disaster relief funding. (Source: AAP/Nearmap)

As NSW and Queensland continue to be impacted by devastating floods, it’s time to talk about climate change and how disaster relief funding is spent.

That’s the message coming from many in the private sector who work in risk mitigation, insurance and resilience.

With global warming increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, the future of some Australian communities is being reassessed.

Globally, 97 per cent of disaster expenditure is directed to recovery, with the remainder going towards mitigation, an imbalance highlighted in February’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Managed retreat a difficult sell

Mitigating flooding impact can take a number of practical forms, according to general manager of Resilience at Risk Frontiers, Andrew Gissing.

While managed retreat - moving people and homes out of harm's way - has been successful in some parts of the United States, the cost of doing so in Australia could be prohibitively expensive due to higher real estate prices.

Acquisition of flood-affected properties in Lismore alone would cost around $1 billion, according to Gissing's “back-of-the-envelope calculation”.

“That’s a lot of money and whether or not that's cost effective, or socially acceptable is a good question,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“Australia does do some buybacks already, but because of the expense, they're really only restricted to those areas which have a particularly high risk to life.”

Practical measures to safeguard homes from climate change

Climate change must be considered in all future settlement planning, and Gissing said there were a number of simple steps communities could take.

“We can be looking at structural measures, enhancing levees, building new levees, retention basins,” he said.

“If we look at some of the more non-structural things, there's potential for house raising.”

A male cleanup volunteer carries whitegoods out of a shop damaged by flooding.
Resistant materials could mitigate the impact of disasters. (Source: AAP)

Gissing said another solution with potential was rebuilding homes after disasters with more durable materials.

“For example, a lot of cabinetry is made out of chipboard particle board and that swells when it's affected by water,” he said.

“But if you’re able to build back with flood-resilient material, so solid timbers, plastics, there’s the ability to reduce costs.”

Call for fossil fuel companies to fund flood-relief payments

With climate change increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, the Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian argued the fossil-fuel industry should be paying for the cleanup.

Rather than taxpayers footing the bill, as they did through a levy in 2011, he said it was those “most responsible for climate impacts in Australia” who should pay.

This would be achieved through a levy on exports of carbon-polluting materials like coal and gas.

“Australia is the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world and it has a huge role in fuelling the climate crisis,” he said.

“And yet the companies that are profiting from climate change are not contributing to the bill from the damages.”

The Greens’ Adam Bandt suggested doubling disaster payments to $2,000, but forcing coal and gas corporations to pay.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific backed the suggestion, adding they had “long advocated” for a fossil-fuel-industry-funded climate-compensation fund.

“Some of the communities affected by the current flood disaster were also hit by flooding last year, and bushfires and heatwaves only years earlier,” Greenpeace’s Martin Zavan said.

“These stacked disasters make recovery much more difficult, and as well as taking a massive economic toll, there is increasing awareness of the negative impacts on mental health.”

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