Our local communities are becoming old hands at responding effectively to natural disasters. This was shown dramatically in the widescale flooding of the Northern Rivers, when small towns, and the city of Lismore, were isolated from any outside help.
Those who come forward selflessly to help are often themselves victims of the disaster. However, we see people giving to the community at the expense of their own clean-up and their own jobs, happy to help their friends and neighbours – and complete strangers – back on their feet.
While their motives are nothing to do with monetary reward, it is important to find a way to recognise these people financially, so that in the short term they are not doubly disadvantaged for taking leadership and active roles in rebuilding their communities.
It may be years before another emergency like this occurs. But it will occur. Climate change and increasing population will ensure that human life and lifestyle is once again in nature’s firing line.
The next time the people who step forward to lead a recovery will not necessarily be the same ones that stepped forward now. This will change depending on the event, flood or fire, the timing and individual capacity to respond.
The question is how do we create a model of assistance that is flexible enough to recognise these often selfless actions? How do we support these people just as they have supported their community?
‘It is very clear that the community is the only one who can respond immediately and they provided the response,’ said one local.
‘Communities need resourcing so that they can do it properly in the future.’
During the Black Summer fires the Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers gave up their time to be out there saving homes, lives, farms and our native forests and animals. Retrospectively the government was able to recognise the amazing work of these volunteers, the time and work they had given up to support others, and provided financial support to members who had done more than five days on the fireground to supplement their loss of earnings.
The challenge to engage with local communities, provide assistance and professional services while empowering communities to build resilience, is something we all need to face together.
Aslan Shand, acting editor