The current flood events in Queensland and northern Western
Australia are causing havoc and creating hardship for residents,
farmers and industry alike. Right now, it is a matter of survival,
but as soon as the danger passes, getting things back to some
semblance of normality will be the imperative. Understandably so -
communities need to return to their livelihoods as quickly as
There is, however, another side to this issue in the context of
planning for a future in which natural disasters occur with
increasing frequency and on a greater scale.
Yesterday's Australian Financial Review contributed to the
discussion by publishing an opinion piece discussing the need for
more dams to mitigate the impact of future flood events and capture
water for use during periods of drought. The response from some
politicians has been predictably short-termist: now is the time to
focus on the immediate needs of the affected people.
Yet, by deferring the discussion we risk losing sight of the
future and repeating the mistakes of the past.
We need to future proof our cities and towns by planning for and
building infrastructure that has sufficient resilience to withstand
natural disasters. Here, I am not just referring to flood
mitigation infrastructure whatever that may be (dams, levees or a
combination of the two). Damage to transportation, power,
telecommunications, water, wastewater and other community
infrastructure has been enormous. When rebuilding begins,
priorities will need to be set and compromises made.
As this occurs, we need to be conscious of the balance between
short-term goals and expediency and the longer-term sustainability
of our communities. A solution may be in the form of temporary
repairs (unsealed roads, for example) while the longer-term
planning is completed.
Australia's engineering standards and methods traditionally
rely on historic data to design infrastructure that meets our
immediate needs and is unlikely to be impacted other than in
Climate change alters this markedly in that the historical data
is no longer relevant or reliable.
As we start to rebuild and repair, we should be, wherever
possible, factoring in new design standards and allowances for the
climate change-driven events that are inevitable.
About the Author: Peter Fagan has more than 35
years of experience and is MWH's Asia Pacific Sustainability
Practice Leader. His extensive experience spans the technical and
organisational aspects of sustainability through public and private
sector roles, including more than 30 years with New South
Wales' largest water provider. Mr Fagan currently serves as a
member of the Technology and Sustainability Standing Committee of
the University of Sydney's Warren Centre for Advanced
Engineering. Peter can be contacted at +61 2 9493 9733 or
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