With a third La Niña weather event underway, Australia is changing the way it prepares for natural disasters. Two key emergency agencies are being merged after criticism of the official response to record-breaking floods earlier this year.
Australia is preparing for a potentially damaging spring and summer.
Severe storms, intense rainfall, and large hail are expected to hit the eastern states in the next three months, while bushfires are expected in northern parts of Australia.
A third consecutive La Niña event is underway, which typically brings above-average rainfall in spring and summer. Climate experts have warned that global warming is making this naturally occurring weather pattern even worse.
Australia has created the National Emergency Management Agency, a merger of two government-run bodies, the National Recovery and Resilience Agency and Emergency Management Australia.
Officials have said the new agency will improve Australia’s response to natural disasters. Earlier this year, residents in some flood-hit towns were forced to fend for themselves because emergency services were overwhelmed. Volunteers in the city of Lismore, north of Sydney, took to small boats and other watercraft to rescue residents stranded in fast-moving floodwaters.
Murray Watt, the federal minister for emergency management, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the authorities will now be better prepared.
“It will be a difficult time and that is why I think we need to make sure as a federal government that we are fully prepared. By combining the disaster response and disaster recovery capacity of the federal government it leads to a much more coordinated effort,” said Watt.
Over the past 18 months, many communities in Australia have been affected by floods. Some have been inundated more than once.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 Australian homes are now vulnerable to flooding, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.
Other experts in Australia are urging communities to prepare their own flood disaster escape plans. This includes identifying the best route to safe locations, always having at least half a tank of fuel in a vehicle, and turning off electricity, gas, and water at the mains before departure.
Australia is a land familiar with nature’s extremes. Heatwaves are its deadliest natural hazard.
An official inquiry into the 2019-’20 Black Summer bushfires warned that climate change was inevitable, and that "compounding disasters" in Australia would become more frequent.
The October 2020 report of the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements said that natural hazards — such as wildfires, floods and storms – could happen simultaneously or one after another.