Rethinking resilience in new era of disasters

Former Head of the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction Robert Glasser addressed the future of disasters at the the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

In November, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) invited Robert Glasser, Visiting Fellow in the Risk and Resilience Program at ASPI, to speak about Australia’s new era of disasters.

The former Assistant United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and former Head of UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction said the frequency and severity of many hazards is likely to continue to increase, with the potential to overwhelm communities and undermine community resilience.

The number of record hot days in Australia has doubled and heatwaves have become longer and hotter. Short and more intense rainstorms that trigger flash floods and urban flooding are also becoming more frequent and sea level has been rising at an accelerated rate since 1993, Mr Glasser warned.

The presentation looked ahead to the wider consequences of these hazards. Disruptions to agriculture, due to more frequent droughts, floods and storms, could have major impacts on regional food security, triggering people movements, unseating governments and contributing to the outbreak of conflict.

These disasters are likely to be more severe than the original disaster, and Mr Glasser noted similar dynamics occurring regionally and globally will compound Australia’s domestic challenges.

Mr Glasser asserted that it is becoming increasingly problematic for Australia to base its disaster management strategies, policy assumptions, operational arrangements and funding on our historical experience of disasters in a stable climate.

Instead, he proposed changes at Commonwealth, State and local levels to address the scale of the emerging threat and noted the opportunity for Australia to lead globally on the issue. He called on the need to begin preparing now by:

  • developing a statement of climate risk to reflect the changing nature of disasters
  • developing a climate resilience adaptation strategy
  • investing in resilience and critical infrastructure
  • identifying indicators of resilience
  • more research into climate impacts
  • mitigation and disaster funding and financial support
  • measures of future vulnerability
  • reconstruction processes extended to embed resilience.

Mr Glasser recognised the work of the National Resilience Taskforce in developing the draft National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, to which AIDR provided feedback.

AIDR Director Amanda Lamont attended the presentation and was invited to perform the role of rapporteur. In considering Mr Glasser’s reflections, AIDR will consider and incorporate these emerging themes as it continues to develop and grow the knowledge and resources in the AIDR disaster resilience collections on the Knowledge Hub, the Australian Journal of Emergency Management and the Australian Disaster Resilience Handbook Collection. Already we are including consideration of the impacts of cascading and catastrophic events in developing handbook content and in reviewing the Australian Emergency Management Arrangements Handbook.

In addition, AFAC and AIDR are working together to develop a Climate Change Adaptation and Implementation Plan for the emergency services sector.