Disasters impacting communities all over the world.

At the international conference on The Demography of Disasters, I was overwhelmed with the amount of deaths resulting from overseas disasters that killed hundreds of thousands of people. It struck me that the 2009 Victorian bushfires seem on such a small scale compared to this. As I have been working on a project for three years now (looking at the medium to long term impacts from the 2009 Victorian bushfires), I feel that I have some understanding of the huge impact it has, and continues to have, on many people and communities. Therefore I can only imagine the impact on these other countries when such loss has occurred. Especially as these countries are at high risk of future disasters and are usually under resourced to prepare, respond and recover from these. This is a massive challenge for recovery and resilience work within these areas. But imagine if we had that many people die within Victoria? How come there is such a large difference in the death toll between these countries and our own? Is it that these countries are highly populated, even in their rural areas? Or is it because we have greater resources and preparedness mechanisms in place to prevent such large scale impacts?

Over the two days, it was emphasised that disaster recovery efforts need to be tailored to the particular area in which they occur. This is due to variability of culture and traditions, which can both assist and hinder the resilience process. Change in anyone’s life is difficult, especially after a disaster, therefore attempting to restore traditions is important but the difficulty within these countries is that at times it’s more dangerous to restore these traditions than change. The cultural relevance within Victorian communities differs greatly from these countries, which further complicates the applicability of these learnings in different contexts.

Throughout the conference there were many different presentations, exploring the impact on communities after a disaster. However, many of the areas being presented were at constant high risk of disasters. Recovery planning needs to occur after a disaster along with planning for the possibility of another disaster, as they are at high threat of one occurring within their lifetime. This threat needs to be accounted for in regards to resilience and future preparedness.


Trees recovering from the Victorian 2009 bushfires.

Some of the presenters completed studies in Asian countries – however, some of the limitations of their studies included not knowing or understanding the local context and how their research findings fit into this. To overcome this many of these researchers collaborate with others within the country or the particular rural area in which the research is being completed. For our study: Beyond Bushfires: Community, Resilience and Recovery (www.beyondbushfires.org.au) we have also taken on this approach. We have many stakeholders from local areas within the participating communities which include residents, local government, NGO’s. As part of the research process we are taking back our initial findings to our community partners and asking them for assistance in interpreting these in terms of what they mean locally. This knowledge adds another level of understanding and allows for non-fire related impacts to be accounted for.

There is a shift in the social environment being just as important as the physical environment in the countries that were presented. However, as this is a major focus of our study – hopefully we can add some interesting evidence to this literature. So stay tuned to not only to this blog but the emerging findings that the Beyond Bushfires team has to report later this year.

If you would like to keep updated with the project to join the Beyond Bushfires email list please send an email to: info-beyondbushfires@unimelb.edu.au