Wednesday, January 12, 2011

worst ever natural disaster?

Julia Gillard and Anna Bligh are calling these floods 'Australia's worst natural disaster.' Really? How do you measure disasters? Financial cost? Area affected? Lives lost?

Yes, this is bad. People have died and many have lost all of their possessions. The recovery will be very expensive and will take a long time. It will be messy and smelly and horrible. Farmers may never be able to get on their feet again.

But 2 years ago, 173 people died in the Victorian bushfires. 173. 400+ more were injured.

Who needs to rank disasters?


  1. And then there was Cyclone Mahina that struck Bathurst Bay, Qld on 4 March 1899, killing over 400 people (mainly on ships in the bay).

    I expect in this case they are talking about economic cost. And I guess they like to rank disasters to give people a sense of the magnitude and time duration to expect for recovery e.g. this is WAAAYYY bigger than Mackay 3 years ago where the water disappeared in a day but left a large town with a massive clean-up headache and heartache - some still weren't back in their houses by the following Christmas, 10 months later. In comparison, this flood covers 80% of a state that's bigger than Alaska.

    A very large percentage of Queensland's economic strength is derived from agriculture and another very large percentage is from mining, both of which have taken massive hits which have then been compounded by a swipe on the financial and political / governmental centre. I expect that this is the only way they can think of right now to say that the ramifications of this are going to last a very long time and everyone in the country is going to pay, whether it be in higher food prices (high banana prices after Cyclone Larry are going to look like a pittance when compared against higher prices across the board for all foodstuffs), higher commodity prices, higher unemployment, lowered GDP and GNP, budget cuts and months, if not years, of rebuilding (good luck getting a tradie for non-urgent work)...

    I don't want to sound too Negative Nelly or like I'm dismissing your request to not rank these things. I expect that you're thinking in terms of emotional toll, particularly on those immediately directly affected, and some of this will be in light of your own bushfire experience. Conversely, I'm thinking as a civil engineer about infrastructure that is necessary for keeping large populations alive and healthy (water and sanitation facilities and transportation in particular).

  2. Maybe they just want us to understand the severity of the situation.

  3. How are you all faring where you are, Simone? How are Andrew's mum and dad going where they are?

  4. It is also always worse if you yourself or things familiar to you have been affected. The bushfires made me feel sick, but this has struck even closer to home because I've seen (albeit on video) places I am very familiar with devastated.

    Laetitia is right, this has a large economic impact, even just if you think about the rest of the state being fairly reliant on their capital for resources such as food. Then you think about how reliant Queensland is on roads and it's going to take a lot of work and money to get the roads across this vast state functional again. Whereas the bushfires were relatively localised.

    It is hard to compare, however. How do you compare a long drawn-out drought with a sudden flood?

  5. Interestingly enough, farmers have been saying that they'd rather have a drought than a flood. At first I wondered at this and then I realised that droughts don't wreck your house or farm machinery or literally carry them away.

  6. Catherine - we are all well. Can drive around on dry roads and do everything as usual.

  7. I think the economic impact of all this is going to be huge. Beyond our comprehension right now probably.
    But you're right...what's the point of getting competitive about how bad a disaster is? As someone facing a weekend of cleaning up mud, my interest isn't in who's had the worst disaster, it's just in getting in and doing what needs to be done to get people back on their feet again.

  8. Living through Black Saturday (literally 5 minutes away, lucky to not lose the house) and talking to a mate who lives up in Brisbane we both used the same word

    "It looks like Armageddon"

    Both were, and are shocking, and led to terrible losses of life and livelihoods. Absolutely no need to rank them.

  9. Sure maybe it isn't helpful to compare. (And as Narelle said, I'd like to think comparison was not really their intention). And that one comments seems like a small-ish thing to me.

    It seems to me that both Local and State governments have done an absolutely tremendous job in preparing, informing, and coordinating the response to this point.

    (e.g. The BCC flood mapping everyone's been relying on ... Campbell Newman initiated the studies for the preparation of that several years ago. Streets with even some potential for flooding were letter-boxed-dropped advice letters to each house by Council in advance. And the State might not be able to run a payroll system, but they sure have coordinated dissemination of information to the public, and response efforts well, in my opinion.)

  10. I heard someone who lived through Canberra fires say a flood is worse because it hangs around and the clean up is ugly. How can you argue with that experience?

  11. I think local, state and federal governments have been fantastic. All pretty impressive.

  12. There's no prize for the worst natural disaster. For the record in orely Brisbane terms this flood is .99 metres lower than 1974. I'm particularly happy about this because it means the water didn't reach our upper level, only the crapy downstairs rooms where we store junk and go to do messy things. We're still doing messy things there now - mainly hosing out mud! The governments have indeed been great, and even more so the hordes of voluneers who've turned up to help.

  13. And now I think the race may be on to win the competition for "most forgotten suburb" in all of this....
    I agree the volunteers have been excellent. We helped a bunch of volunteers clean out a school on Saturday afternoon after my parents' home was under control. The commitment to the job at hand was great.