Don’t make the chronic acute in disaster management, says panel

By Anna Macdonald

June 6, 2022

Bob Carr
Former NSW premier and foreign minister of Australia Bob Car, seen here in 2019, moderated the panel. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

With the 2019-20 bushfire season and now floods, the ‘chronic becoming acute’ should be front of mind for disaster management, according to senior project officer at Resilience NSW Pamela Sitko.

Exacerbating existing inequalities during crises was discussed at length by an expert panel titled ‘Disaster Response in a Changing Climate: Perspectives from the Pacific and New South Wales’, moderated by Bob Carr, professor of business and climate at UTS and former premier of New South Wales. The event was hosted at UTS. 

Sitko mentioned the temporary accommodation pods used after the 2019-20 bushfire season from philanthropic organisation The Minderoo Foundation, of which billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is the chair.

Keeping communities together after a disaster is important, said Sitko, especially in physical buildings where possible. The difficulty of a challenge did not go unnoted. 

“It is such an incredibly difficult problem to tackle and it’s difficult to tackle right away,” Sitko commented, “You may have heard on the news that people are still living in emergency accommodation and people are having to live quite a distance outside of, say, Lismore because there is nothing available.”

The panel discussed how crises disadvantage the already disadvantaged, as many with lower socio-economic income brackets are living in areas prone to flooding, Sitko pointed out.

“Good practice says people need access to affordable insurance. We know that that’s good practice. After the bushfires, the Insurance Council of Australia is working with Resilience New South Wales on a number of recommendations to make insurance affordable,” Sitko said. 

Carr noted the advice he received as premier was that a government subsidy would be necessary to make insurance cheaper. 

Principal consultant from Fiji-based Talanoa Consulting Sangeeta Mangubhai illustrated how gender is often an overlooked aspect, particularly as female issues like menstruation and pregnancy are overlooked. Mangubhai said disaster management plans need to be constructed with gender in mind from the beginning. 

“The most marginalised are the ones that are not going to have a voice,” Mangubhai said. “They’re going to be easily forgotten. 

“Unless you somehow get them to the table to explain how they are affected, what their needs are and what the big gaps and disadvantages that they have compared to others in recovery.”


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