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Yasi's lesson: local business the key to rebuilding after cyclones

Nathalie Fernbach, Tuesday April 11, 2017 - 14:52 EST

Hiring local, shopping local and spending disaster relief funds locally can make the difference between a community recovering from a cyclone or not.

That is according to James Cook University academic and human geographer Dr Sandy Astill who has been researching resilience and recovery in the communities affected by Cyclones Larry and Yasi.

Particularly in regional areas which can be reliant on a single crop or industry, Dr Astill said if businesses were not re-started soon after the event, it could be catastrophic.

"If that industry is decimated then you have got a huge problem within the economy of these local centres," Dr Astill said.

"The most support needs to be for the recovery of the local economy, without an economy we don't have a township, basically."

Dr Astill was living in far north Queensland near Gordonvale south of Cairns when category 4 Cyclone Larry struck in 2006 and category 5 Cyclone Yasi struck in 2011.

Her research has focussed on how prepared north Queensland communities were, what impacted their recovery and what assistance communities need most to recover from disasters.

Dr Astill's research revealed that one of the biggest impediments to recovery after Yasi was the spending of disaster relief funding outside of the region.

"Insurance companies rather than using local contractors or local resource providers brought everybody up from down south," Dr Astill said.

"I'm talking about contractors from Cairns wanting to be given the opportunity to quote on jobs in Cardwell, were not given that opportunity."

"So it is not just the local towns, the local region suffered from this."



Wary of non-local contractors

Darcy Rowe is a roofer and plumber who has been working in Collinsville, Bowen and the Whitsundays following cyclone Debbie.

After Yasi he was replacing roofs around Cardwell and Ingham and said a lot of his work was re-doing shoddy repairs completed by out-of-town contractors.

Mr Rowe said people seemed to have a really strong preference for local tradespeople this time and quiz him about his credentials when he arrived on site.

"Every single job that we went to that we had to do a roof report on the first question that was asked is 'where are you guys from?," Mr Rowe said.

"Obviously they had heard all these bad reports about southerners coming up and just sort of coming in and blitzing the place getting a quick buck and getting out of town."

Mr Rowe thinks the preference for locals is driven by a desire to support local industry and a fear of a repeat of some of the bad experiences after Yasi.

"Last time was sort of like a fly-in fly-out, they fly in and do the work and they fly back out and take all the money with them."

"I hope they want to support the locals because obviously if the locals aren't getting any work and all this work is happening how are the regions going to prosper?"



Information on how to recover is missing

Each year as cyclone season approaches emergency services and local councils distribute leaflets with comprehensive information on how to prepare for natural disasters.

Dr Astill said her research revealed what residents wanted most was information on how to recover from, rather than prepare for a disaster.

"We all know how to prepare for a cyclone, if we didn't then there would be hundreds of deaths every time we had one," Dr Astill said.

"What they were looking for was information on how to access the services that they needed. How do they access psychological assistance. How do they access the hotline to access disaster funding that is being offered?"

"Often this information is only available if you have access to a computer."

In geographically remote areas where internet access is often poor and many communities have ageing populations, including recovery information on the back of printed council brochures would seem logical Dr Astill suggested.



Can there be positives from a natural disaster?

Dr Astill said natural disasters do provide an opportunity for communities to rebuild and become even more resilient.

"Each natural disaster provides another whole heap of engineering information as to strength of winds and strength of materials," Dr Astill said.

"So there is scope there for businesses to do very well but it is just they have got to be given the opportunity."

"You don't want to rebuild to the standard that you were before you want to rebuild to a better standard."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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