Experts urge caution when rebuilding after disaster

Dec 04, 2012
Extreme weather events, including heat waves, floods and cyclones, are projected to become more frequent. Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/

As Australia prepares for a season of heatwaves, bush fires and other extreme weather events, experts have urged disaster-hit communities to learn from past mistakes and resist the rush to rebuild things the way they were.

Climate change modelling shows that including flash floods, cyclones and droughts are likely to become more common.

However, an international research project involving the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, hosted by Griffith University, has found that communities and governments sometimes fail to adapt to the increasing risk.

"Often, following a disaster, there is an option to 'build back better' but this requires considerable political will and financing. It's more common to simply rebuild in a desire to return to normality as soon as possible," said Dr Sarah Boulter, Research Fellow at the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, who is presenting her findings at the Australian Academy of Science's Science for a Green Economy conference in Sydney this week.

"It's hard to imagine that if disasters increase or worsen under climate change that governments can continue to be relied on as the insurer of last resort."

The research project, titled Learning from experience – Historical case studies and climate change adaptation, noted that following Cyclone Tracy in 1974, Darwin authorities put a six month ban on rebuilding to allow time to develop a new cyclone-proof building code.

That kind of response, however, is rare, said Dr Boulter.

"In many communities, often there's a sense that 'We won't be beaten by these events'. There is building and construction that goes on that still puts people at risk," she said.

Sometimes, a lack of communication means people are not even aware they are building their home in a flood plain or bush fire prone area or fail to appreciate the growing risk of disaster striking again.

"With a long, hot summer on the way, I think the experience of heat wave and bush fires in 2009 are foremost in people's mind and I expect that preparations will reflect many of the lessons from these events. Certainly, with the hot weather we saw last week in the southern states there was considerable and early warning to the community to be aware of the risk of hot weather," she said.

"What is less clear, is whether the community is more aware of the risk and willing to respond. The challenge for climate change adaptation is to learn from these experiences and develop strategies to convince communities that they are at risk and need to plan and act for the future."

The upfront expense of climate change adaptation can present a problem for governments in the short term, she said.

"In the face of the climate change, investing in infrastructure that will be resilient under greater pressure—such as electricity supply infrastructure that copes with increased heat, roads that are less likely to be flooded and cut off food supplies and so on—is difficult for both governments and private industry."

Dr Stuart Corney, a Climate Systems Modeller at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC said there is a lot of research to suggest extreme are going to become more common.

"We have done modelling on flash flooding in Tasmania where a 1-in-200 year event is projected to become more frequent than 1-in-20 years," he said.

"That changes the way you have to plan for things," especially long-term infrastructure such as dams, he said.

"Climate change is going to win in any situation. You might get variability, but if the trend is toward increasing fire danger and increasing floods, then it will only get worse."

The insurance industry and local councils are paying close attention to climate change modelling as they try to manage risk, he said.

"Local councils are worried about it and they want information they can base their decisions on. They know there are planning issues but they can't make arbitrary decisions because they will be challenged in court over it."

The federal government has taken steps to combat climate change and is keeping abreast of the research, Dr Corney said.

"However, responding to involves both government and society and ultimately it will involve difficult political and economic decisions on a global scale."

Explore further: Weird weather lingers in Alaska's largest city

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

King tides -- a glimpse of future sea level rise

Jan 12, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Tomorrow, beach-goers will get a glimpse of what our coastlines may look like in 50 years, when New South Wales and South East Queensland experience the highest daytime ‘king tides’ forecast ...

Climate change to bring more floods: World Bank

Nov 10, 2011

Climate change will bring more floods and extreme weather to Southeast Asia, a World Bank official said Thursday on a visit to the region, where hundreds have died in severe inundation.

Climate change evident across Europe, report says

Nov 26, 2012

Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, causing a wide range of impacts on society and the environment. Further impacts are expected in the future, potentially causing high damage costs, according ...

Recommended for you

New challenges for ocean acidification research

22 hours ago

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

23 hours ago

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
not rated yet Dec 04, 2012
In 1980 a flash flood on Brushy Creek devastated Round Rock, Texas. The city fathers decide they would restrict rebuilding on the flood plain. So far the strategy has worked.
Jimee
not rated yet Dec 04, 2012
Clever.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.