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Disasters and Building Resilience

The Challenge

The frequency, duration and severity of extreme weather events and disasters is increasing, straining individuals, communities and government agencies. Disadvantaged households and communities are the most impacted and least able to prepare, respond and recover.

The lasting impacts of the 2022 floods, following on from COVID-19 and the Black Summer fires, have again highlighted the essential role of place-based social service organisations when emergencies and natural disasters occur. During and after these disasters, local non-government organisations (NGOs) have been at the forefront of the response and recovery, supporting shattered communities to heal and rebuild.

Extended time in temporary or unsuitable living arrangements, uncertainty about government programs, the compounding impacts of multiple emergencies and the sheer scale of the impacts, have meant ongoing trauma and continued demand for the assistance of local services. However, disaster funding has been one-off, short term, and crisis-driven, leaving communities to fend for themselves after the media spotlight has moved on. Given lack of growth funding in the face of rising demand, local NGOs do not have the resources to meet the ongoing needs of disaster-impacted communities.

Local NGOs are insufficiently recognised as a core part of NSW’s emergency management system, resulting in fractured and inadequate responses to disasters and exacerbated impacts on the most vulnerable.

What’s In the 2023-2024 Budget?

Natural disaster support and response programs

  • $3.2 billion for disaster relief and recovery programs, which is eligible for co-contribution from the Australian Government under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements
  • $299.3 million for Transport for NSW to restore roads damaged by disasters
  • $150 million for the NSW Land and Housing Corporation to deliver replacement, substitute and new social housing in flood impacted locations
  • $128.3 million to repair critical water and sewage infrastructure damaged in flood events
  • $99.9 million for the state-funded Resilient Lands Program
  • $96.0 million for NSW Land and Housing Corporation to deliver social housing across flood impacted locations in Northern New South Wales
  • $58.0 million for Flood Recovery Support for the Department of Customer Service, including the Back Home Program
  • $5 million to Resilient Lismore and the Reece Foundation to support the Two Rooms Project to help flood survivors get back into their homes following the 2022 floods in Lismore
  • $3.3 million to invest in a natural disaster detection system to better protect communities in high-risk areas

NSW Reconstruction Authority

  • $115 million to increase funding for the NSW Reconstruction Authority

What does it mean for those doing it tough?

The measures in this Budget demonstrate that the Government appreciates the importance of responding to disasters and building resilience, but they fall short of what is required and miss the vital role played by the NGO sector.

Repairing and improving road networks impacted by disasters will make a difference to the recovery of local communities, and contribute to their readiness for future disasters. Similarly, repairing other physical infrastructure such as water and sewerage is a critical role of Government. However, there is little in the Budget that will address the long term impacts and ongoing trauma experienced by communities. Funding for the NGO Flood Support Program in the Northern Rivers region was not continued in this Budget, despite multiple organisations raising the alarm that the removal of critical supports at this point risks undermining the recovery of traumatised and displaced community members. It is another example of stop-start funding harming recovery efforts that are already under immense pressure.

What is needed?

The Government must ensure that it takes a considered and whole-of-community approach to disasters and resilience, and broaden its focus beyond physical infrastructure. The investments in this Budget are a good start, but more is required. This includes:

  • Providing additional investment in NGOs working in communities impacted by recent disasters, so that they can continue their support of those hardest hit and to reduce long-term social and trauma impacts.
  • Recognising that local NGOs are at the heart of their communities and play a critical role in managing the human impacts of disaster. As well as being at the frontline of response and recovery, they can help build resilience and preparedness to mitigate the impacts , particularly among those most vulnerable. This requires enhanced core funding, and strengthening NSW’s overall disaster capability by leveraging existing social service infrastructure.
  • Directing some of the increased funding for the NSW Reconstruction Authority to the NGO sector to build resilience, awareness and preparedness, particularly among those at most risk. This should include pilot funding for ‘backbone’ organisations to coordinate across the NGO sector, build capability and local planning, and connecting to emergency management systems and agencies.

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