Involve local service agencies in disaster planning: ACOSS

EXCLUDING community-based organisations from disaster management planning weakens the response to natural disasters and puts people's lives at risk, new research shows.

The research, released on Thursday by the Australian Council of Social Service, examined the preparedness of community service organisations that provide critical social services and support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the community.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said the world-first research highlighted the "serious consequences" if service agencies were not able to cope with increasing extreme weather events.

"A major finding was that despite the crucial role locally based organisations play in supporting and rebuilding people's lives during disasters like bushfires and floods, they are not included in official emergency response planning and are critically under-resourced to participate effectively," Dr Goldie said.

"One research participant in the research bluntly told us that clients would die if their organisation could not provide services because they will not be able to eat, use shower and toilet facilities or get out of bed without the assistance that their organisation provides."

Dr Karl Mallon, the project's principal investigator, said events overseas highlighted the importance of equipping the community sector to deal with natural disasters.

"This research confirms what we have seen recently in the USA and Europe, that highly vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities are being left to fend for themselves for days and even weeks after a disaster because the community organisations that normally tend to them have themselves been crippled," Dr Mallon said.

The launch of the report - Extreme Weather, Climate Change and the Community Sector - Risks and Adaptations - coincided with a Senate committee examining extreme weather.

Dr Goldie appeared before the inquiry, outlining the 12 recommendations contained in the report. Others to appear before the inquiry on Thursday included Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton and The Climate Institute CEO John Connor.

In his submission to the committee Dr Hambleton wrote an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events had "significant implications for public health in Australia".

"Amid a backdrop of record temperatures, unprecedented heatwaves, and bushfire destruction, the capacity of communities and services to respond to climatic extremes is under intense scrutiny," he wrote.



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