Australia: Lack of confidence in nation’s critical infrastructure as fears rise of natural disasters

News Release
Last Updated: 18 May 2011

SYDNEY, 16 May 2011 – Almost all Australians support the government investing more money to make the country's infrastructure better able to cope with the increasing number and severity of natural disasters. This is according to research commissioned by MWH, an environmental and water engineering services firm, to establish the attitude of Australians toward natural disasters and their impact on critical infrastructure.

The MWH Critical Infrastructure Report 2011 found that just one third of Australians believe the country's critical infrastructure is strong enough to withstand floods or cyclones, while only 14 per cent believe it could withstand an earthquake and 12 per cent a tsunami.

The same survey, conducted among over 2,000 Australians, found that 85 per cent of Australians believe the number of natural disasters experienced recently to be higher than the long-term average, and over 70 per cent predict Australia will experience more natural disasters over the next 20 years.

Peter Williams, MWH's Managing Director, Australia, said Australians are becoming increasingly anxious about the threat of natural disasters, both in terms of their impact on Australia as a nation, and in terms of their personal vulnerability.

"These findings raise legitimate concerns about the future and should be incorporated into our planning processes as we repair the damage from recent events and move to deliver the hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure across Australia over the next few years," he said.

While 98 per cent of Australians believe the government should be spending more money to make our infrastructure better able to cope with natural disasters, there is lack of consensus as to the approach of the kind of infrastructure best suited to the future. One-quarter (24 per cent) favour the 'resistance' approach – i.e. investing in infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters – while about one-third (31 per cent) prefer the 'resilience' approach, meaning a lower level of spending that allows critical infrastructure to be quickly restored in the wake of a disaster. Forty-three per cent of respondents believe there should be a balanced approach.

"Natural disasters are impossible to avoid, and property and infrastructure cannot be made totally invulnerable. The only viable solution is to prepare our cities, towns and communities through a combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies.

"An important strategy is designing decentralised systems for essential services such as electricity, water and wastewater so an interruption does not bring down the entire operation.

"There is widespread public support for decentralised infrastructure, however, it is not without complications. Nonetheless, there is broad recognition of the need to spread the risk of total breakdown," Mr Williams said.

The research indicates Australians are willing to contribute to the cost of investing in infrastructure to insure against disruption, but this is only marginally more than the current average annual household expenditure. On average, Australians are willing to spend most to protect the supply of fresh water, followed by electricity and sanitation. Overall, Western Australians are prepared to pay most to protect their critical infrastructure against disruptions. Not surprisingly, in New South Wales, residents believe their new State government should be spending more money on critical infrastructure across the board.

"Those investing in, or funding infrastructure must consider the cost benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis. Where rebuilding is deemed necessary and appropriate, we must do so in a manner that will better withstand the impact of future events.

"Fortunately, as we build in our increasing intelligence into infrastructure planning and construction, we expect recovery from natural disasters to be easier in future. Wherever possible, we should be factoring in new design standards and allowing for the more extreme events we are seeing today," Mr Williams concluded.

Please email to receive a copy of the MWH Critical Infrastructure Report 2011.

Notes to editors

About the research:

The survey was conducted online between 1 April and 6 April 2011 by Lonergan Research of 2,148 Australians, 18 years of age and over. Results were weighted to the population estimates according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA) scores were applied to allow the data to be analysed according to three broad categories of remoteness: cities, regional and remote.

About MWH

MWH has been consistently ranked in the top three companies worldwide as a management, engineering and construction firm, focusing on wet infrastructure. The wet infrastructure sector encompasses a full range of water-related projects and programs from water supply, treatment and storage, hydropower and dams, water management for the natural resources industry and coastal restoration to renewable power and environmental services. MWH is a private, employee-owned firm with offices in 36 countries across the Americas, Europe, Middle East, India, Asia and the Pacific Rim. For more information visit the website at .

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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