As a business based in regional NSW with a strong focus on serving local communities and local councils, we have seen and felt the impact of the string of emergency events and natural disasters in recent times.
In this context, the NSW Auditors report on local government released last month makes for some interesting reading. Notably, it highlights the impacts of recent emergency events on local government, particularly within a regional context. This includes bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Size and scale of recent natural disasters
First, it is remarkable to reflect on the number and scale of emergency events in the past few years. The report highlights that over the past three years there has been an increasing number of natural disasters. As a result, many local government areas have been declared a natural disaster area.
Natural disasters are declared for emergency events that cause significant damage or loss of life, where eligible State expenditure exceeds $240,000. Importantly, this declaration enables local councils to apply to recover costs associated with these disasters from Resilience NSW. For many councils, these costs have been significant. For example, in the Clarence LGA the impacts of floods and bushfires are estimated at $19 million. On the south coast, the estimated damage bill in Bega Valley LGA is $28.5 million.
Over the past three years the following natural disaster declarations have been made across NSW:
/ in 2018 – there were 36 bushfire and 18 flood and storm declarations
/ in 2019 – there were 29 bushfire and 65 flood and storm declarations
/ in 2020 – there were 57 bushfire and 114 flood and storm declarations
And these do not account for the more recent floods in 2021.
Impacts of emergency events on regional areas
Second, the report highlights the different impacts of these recent events on metropolitan and regional councils.
Councils located in the south east and north coast of NSW have felt the double whammy of both bushfires, as well as floods and storms. Whilst other councils in regional and rural NSW have been more impacted by bushfires only. For example, in Eurobodalla, a staggering 79% of the LGA was directly impacted by the fires. This was different again in the Sydney area. The main impact being for flood and storm events (with the exception of some of the urban fringe LGAs in Sydney).
Notably, despite the challenges of the pandemic and other disasters, 56% of metropolitan councils reported an operating result that was favourable compared to budgets set in May 2019. However, the story was different for regional and rural councils. The majority had operating costs that fell short of their original budget.
This reflects the reality that bushfires, floods and the pandemic have created additional risks and challenges for regional areas.
Long journey of recovery still ahead
It is important to remember that many communities in regional and rural NSW are still recovering from the bushfires of 2019 and 2020. Subsequent multiple emergency events and disasters have also taken a toll on the community’s collective wellbeing. In particular, the pandemic and following social distancing requirements have meant that many communities have not been able to gather and connect in person, at a time when human connection is most critical.
As communities continue to move through the recovery journey, we need to find new ways to support each other. At the heart of this should be the community. For many years, we have advocated the benefits of community-led planning approaches. We need these kinds of approaches now more than ever.
As a part of a pilot project for Lismore City Council, we recently worked closely with the Nimbin and The Channon communities to create community-led resilience plans to help the communities be better prepared for future natural disasters. Previously, we have worked with the Nymboida community to develop a community-led action plan to guide recovery efforts following the bushfires.
More broadly, for some years, we have been undertaking broader scale community-led planning in the Jervis Bay area and with other communities in the Shoalhaven area.
With our team qualified in IAP2 engagement approaches, our team is well-placed to work alongside communities. If you are interested in exploring this kind of approach for your community, please reach out to Emma or Cinnamon: