Toll of Australia’s extreme wet weather weighs on eastern communities

By Melissa Coade

March 8, 2022

Cameron Dick
Queensland treasurer Cameron Dick. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Queensland has started counting the preliminary cost of damage caused by the recent deluge, as a WA emergency services team is deployed to help flood-affected areas of NSW.

Torrential rain and flooding has devastated communities in Queensland and NSW this month, with 17 people killed as a result of rising flood waters so far. 

Queensland’s rain bomb is likely to set the state economy back several billions of dollars, according to state treasurer Cameron Dick. 

Recovery measures and programs in the state are estimated to reach between $2 billion and $2.5 billion and private insurance claims are expected to reach $936 million. Meanwhile, the cost to the economy in terms of reduced local activity is likely to cost another billion dollars (equivalent to about a quarter of a percentage point of gross state product (GSP)).

“Right now, our immediate focus is on helping those families and businesses hit by this disaster to get back on their feet. But at the same time, we are beginning the planning work that will create stronger, safer, more resilient communities,” Dick said in a statement on Monday.

“It’s important to note that these estimates of the cost of this severe weather event are preliminary, and likely to rise as more damage assessments are conducted.”

The news follows recent remarks by federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg that the financial blow of the recent freak weather would be significant. 

However, Dick noted the cost of this latest devastating rain bomb could be less compared to past extreme weather events like Cyclone Debbie in 2017 (costing three-quarters of a percentage point to GSP) or the 2011 floods and Cyclone Yasi (costing 2 ¼% to GSP).

“For anyone dumping treasured possessions or hosing the mud out of their home, comparisons to other floods don’t mean much. But the impact on our budget and economy does affect how quickly we can recover from natural disasters,” the treasurer said. 

Queensland’s recovery and support costs will be jointly shouldered by state and federal governments with $560 million of available support for small business, not-for-profit, primary producers, local governments and sporting and community organisation facilities

Officials have set aside $100 million to go to personal hardship payments for approximately 30,000 Queenslanders.

Meanwhile, two emergency service teams of 13 personnel from West Australia have been deployed to New South Wales for a week as part of the national resource sharing centre. 

The team, referred to as the Incident Management Team and Community Liaison Unit, have been drawn from Pilbara, Great Southern, Lower South West and Perth metropolitan areas. They join another 11 WA SES personnel (two of whom are volunteers) who were sent to assist in flooded parts of northern NSW last week.

“The aftermath of the flooding in both northern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland has been heartbreaking. Our thoughts are with all of those who have been impacted by these devastating floods,” WA emergency services minister Stephen Dawson said. 

“I’m proud the Western Australian response contingent has now grown to 24 people and I have every confidence their expertise and experience in a wide range of roles will be crucial in keeping communities safe during the flood recovery,” he said. 

WA emergency services commissioner Darren Klemm said the Department of Fire and Emergency Services had a team of extraordinary staff and volunteers driven to protect communities in emergency situations such as this.

“Major flooding continues to batter northern NSW so it is imperative that extra resources are flown in from other states to bolster the emergency response,” Flemm said. 

Six people have died in the NSW floods and almost 1000 homes have been declared uninhabitable because of the devastating deluge. 

Health advocates are calling for a national climate-health plan, with more frequent and extreme natural disasters like the recent floods set to continue with the effects of climate change

Public Health Association of Australia president Tarun Weeramanthri said people who had lost family, houses, and livelihoods to the floods faced other public health hazards because of factors such as injury, waterborne diseases, and mental distress. He said without a national strategy that drew on the combined risks to climate, health and wellbeing, problems impacted by social inequality would be amplified.

“We as public health professionals have long expressed our concerns about the health effects of climate change, and the latest IPCC report shows what is at stake unless we take urgent action,” Weeramanthri said.

“It’s imperative that the Australian government work alongside the public health sector, and all states and territories, to intensify actions and commitments to cut our harmful emissions, and help the many communities at risk from global heating.”

Climate and Health Alliance executive director Fiona Armstrong said Australians’ experience of the 2019 summer bushfires and this latest flooding incident demonstrated how the government had failed to protect citizens from climate impacts. She said the alliance wanted to see Australia’s political leaders commit to deeper emissions cuts this decade.

“Our coalition of over 90 health sector groups is imploring the Australian government to take the health impacts of climate change seriously,” Armstrong said. 

“The longer the Australian government delays implementing a climate-health plan, the more people will get sick and the more people will die prematurely.”

The advocacy groups have published a national strategy framework to address the escalating climate change, health and wellbeing issues facing the nation for governments at all levels to adopt. 


READ MORE:

Queenslanders told to stay at home or evacuate as flood waters rise

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