Patchy flood risk management approach remains a concern

Although flooding is Australia’s costliest natural hazard-related cause of disaster, a devolved model for floodplain risk management (FRM) has led to uneven outcomes at the local level.

Some communities are well progressed towards holistic FRM, but others are at a less mature stage of working towards flood risk assessments and appropriate FRM plans.

A new report published by the Geneva Association – a global association of insurance companies – says this lopsided situation can be traced back to Australia’s constitutional arrangements.

Where responsibility for flood mitigation may be devolved to local councils by state and territory governments (with shared funding arrangements) a local approach can be enabled, allowing FRM to be integrated with local councils’ other responsibilities including land use planning and asset management.

“[However], overall funding issues … have led to a patchy approach to assessment and understanding of flood risk,” say the authors of the Flood Risk Management in Australia: Building flood resilience in a changing climate report.

“Furthermore, FRM funding that is made available is grossly disproportionate to the funding provided for flood recovery and reconstruction and for disaster management related to bushfire and structural fire hazards.”

The report authors suggest another challenge is involving at-risk communities in FRM.

“Although there have been attempts to do this by local councils and emergency agencies, there is far more work required to engage communities meaningfully in FRM and lift flood-preparedness levels.

“Also, the funding and support for community flood education and engagement in emergency service budgets is very low compared to that for response and recovery activities.” 

The report identifies five opportunities for improving FRM in Australia, including;

  • Further collaborative efforts (flood risk managers, emergency managers and land-use planning) to minimise the growth of flood risk in the future development of floodplains, particularly those at high risk;
  • Increases in FRM funding, with a rebalancing from response and recovery to mitigation, and an improved share of overall hazard related funds to flood;
  • Proactive strategies and resourcing to improve FRM and flood resilience in the highest priority flood-risk areas;
  • Increased resourcing and effort to improve community participation in FRM and raise community flood preparedness levels nationwide; and
  • Broader consideration of the full spectrum of possible flood events (rather than a single design flood event) in FRM, emergency management and land-use planning.