According to two new reports released today the total annual cost of natural disasters in Australia is expected to more than treble to $33 billion by 2050.
At the same time a Climate Council report says Australia is under prepared to deal with the escalating problem of extreme “killer” heatwaves and a “whole of society approach” is needed to deal with the problem.
The Roundtable has released two new reports, entitled The Economic Cost of the Social Impact of natural Disasters and Building Resilient Infrastructure, which deliver the first economic analysis of the social impact of natural disasters.
Key findings on the economic impact of natural disasters show that the true cost of a disaster is 50 per cent higher than previously estimated when social costs are included as costs are expected to skyrocket from $9 billion in 2015 to $33 billion per year by 2050.
Meanwhile, the Climate Council report said there were more than 370 deaths during the heatwave of 2009 and climate forecasts indicate there will be longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves in future, according to The Silent Killer: Climate change and the impact of extreme heat.
The number of record hot days in Australia has doubled in the past 50 years.
Heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other natural hazard and have caused more deaths since 1890 than bushfires, cyclones, earthquakes, floods and severe storms combined, the report said.
In the 2009 heatwave, emergency callouts jumped by 46 per cent and there was a tripling of cardiac arrests.
“Our argument is no-one should die from heat in Australia,” said Dr Liz Hanna, the report’s author.
Dr Hanna said there needs to be greater flexibility in how hospitals operate, and extra capacity in the emergency services.
Speaking on behalf of the Roundtable, IAG managing director and CEO, Peter Harmer said that the reports demonstrate the importance of resilience planning for communities across the country.
“The reports show the long-term cost of the social impact of natural disasters on our communities and economy, and the benefits of embedding resilience into planning decisions for critical infrastructure,” Mr Harmer said.
“We need to do more to help our communities prepare for and recover from disasters. Sadly the devastation of bushfires, flood and earthquakes on our communities can last for years, if not decades.”
The report calls for a collaborative approach involving government, businesses, not-for-profits and the community to address medium to long-term costs and impacts of disasters and calls for further investment in community resilience programs across the country.
The infrastructure report found that more than $450 million was spent by Australian governments each financial year on restoring essential public infrastructure following extreme weather events between 2002-2 and 2010-11.
Between 2015 and 2050 it is expected that $17 billion, in net present value terms, will be spent on direct replacements of essential infrastructure following natural disasters as total infrastructure spending in Australia is projected to reach approximately $1.1 trillion by 2050.
“This report is the first time that analysis into the economic cost of the social impacts of natural disasters has been conducted,” Australian Red Cross director of Australian services Noel Clement said.
“Governments, business and communities need to work together to address the medium and long-term social impacts of natural disasters through further investment and research.”
Studies of the 2010-11 Queensland floods, the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and the 1989 Newcastle earthquake suggest social costs are at least as high as tangible costs such as the loss of property.