The Red Cross is calling for a radical change to risk management in Australia, and says disaster preparation needs to become as normal as wearing a seatbelt.
The organisation, one of the world’s biggest disaster relief agencies, has warned if nothing changes, relief costs will rise beyond the ability to pay for them and people will die unnecessarily.
Peter Walton from the Red Cross said the responses to recent storms across Australia and Hurricane Matthew in the Americas were an example of what is going wrong.
“We estimate that there needs to be at least a four-fold national increase in disaster risk reduction,” he said.
“Australia Red Cross is part of a business roundtable looking at disaster risk reduction, and that involved a whole range of companies, banking institutions, insurance companies.”
He said a relatively small investment in disaster preparation could save much more in the long term.
“We’ve submitted a report to the Productivity Commission which has demonstrated that for investments of around about $250 million per year, the Australian economy could save $13 billion,” he said.
“So an economic case is being put up because we’re spending about $9 billion a year in Australia on the cost of disasters.
“That’s forecast to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.”
Mr Walton believes there is little choice to do otherwise as disasters become more frequent.
Tracey Pannell, whose Tasmanian house was badly damaged in a bushfire three years ago, echoed Mr Walton’s calls.
She was about 40 minutes away from her home in Dunalley in the state’s east as the bushfire approached the town. She rushed home and grabbed some valuables, and her husband stayed to protect their home. “The fire did come right down within 50 metres of the home, and he defended the property as best he could,” said Ms Pannell. “We lost all of our faces, but all of our main buildings and everything he was able to defend.” The lack of preparation is a mistake she said she will never make again.
Ms Pannell said it can take a major event before people realise the importance of disaster preparation. “Until you’re actually faced with it, you don’t think about it,” she said.
“We’re all busy and we all think it will never happen to us. “But once it does, I think it’s just a gentle reminder and you will never forget to be prepared.”