The peak environmental group for South East Queensland is urgently calling on governments to flip the current disaster response model to focus on investing in preparedness and proactive flood mitigation, rather than relying on disaster response payments after the fact.
Healthy Land & Water estimates that investing in measures that reduce flood risk by building ecosystem resilience is three to five times more cost effective than trying to repair damage and impact after an extreme flood event like the one that recently devastated parts of South East Queensland.
“It’s heartbreaking watching the devastation that has unfolded – on people, their livelihoods and our beautiful environs. The only thing comforting is knowing that we now have the knowledge to do something about it,” says Julie McLellan, CEO of Healthy Land & Water, the official natural resource management group for South East Queensland.
“We know that active and targeted investment in flood preparedness could greatly increase resilience and reduce the impact of future extreme events – and let’s be candid – more extreme events are on the cards as a result of climate change.”
Channelling investment into resilience is not just an economically sound approach, there are also untold positive social, environmental and cultural benefits for South East Queensland.
“We have 20 years of data from our monitoring program for the region and evidence from the many thousands of projects we’ve deployed across the region which are giving us clear sign-posts of what needs to be done to make our region more resilient to extreme events,” explains Ms McLellan.
“The missing piece is the large-scale proactive investment to make it happen. This needs a complete turnaround in thinking – and that’s going to be a hard conversation because our governmental systems are not set up that way currently– but the potential benefit for the region makes it essential to achieve, and the sooner the better.”
Ms McLellan points to the confronting aerial images showing large plumes of sediment moving down the waterways out into the bay, reminding us that once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“Actively restoring our landscapes to ensure our soils are better held in place during large rain events by groundcover is one way of keeping our soils where they need to be rather than being lost out into our oceans where they also cause further damage to marine life,” she says.
“When the region is in better nick, healthy landscapes act as giant kidneys, filtering out mud and particles, while at the same time slowing the water down, reducing both flood level and the number of homes and livelihoods that are impacted,”
“Another important thing to achieve is healthy, connected landscapes, free of invasive weeds, ensuring animals and pollinators can move freely across the region as they were meant to do.
“Proactive investment in resilience is proven and should be the obvious action after all the disaster responses we’ve waded through over the last decade from flood and fire.”
Ms McLellan says that while disaster payments will still be needed, resilience work should greatly reduce the need for them.